O'Connor remembered as city leader, family man
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The son of Mayor Bob O'Connor today saluted him for his 40 years as a husband and father, his decades of public service and his eight brief months at the helm of the City of Pittsburgh.
The Rev. Terrence O'Connor, a Catholic priest, preached the homily at the funeral Mass at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland, a ceremony of pageantry that was also marked by the participation of family members throughout.
Mr. O'Connor died Friday after a two-month battle against a rare brain cancer.
Mr. O'Connor's farewell began with a horse-drawn trip to the cathedral and concluded with a motorcade through city neighborhoods on the way to the cemetery.
Referring repeatedly to "my Dad," Father O'Connor in his homily mentioned his Catholic faith, his hope, his dedication as a family man and his enthusiasm. He noted that his father had obviously touched people beyond the city, saying that people from as far as Brookville in Jefferson County and Erie, Pa., had joined the long lines at the funeral home in the past few days.
Father O'Connor saluted his mother, Judy, who was married 42 years to the late mayor. She didn't visit her husband in UPMC Shadyside hospital during his two-month treatment for central nervous system lymphoma, "she lived with him," Father O'Connor said. His remarks brought a standing ovation for his mother.
Mayor O'Connor was a "man of hope" who "believed Pittsburgh could be a better place," his son said, adding that he brought enthusiasm and a desire to help people as his motivation for becoming mayor.
Father O'Connor remained poised throughout his homily, but he became slightly choked up as he remembered one of his visits to his father in the hospital. The priest passed on praise from a woman for his father's work with the Caring Place, which helps children and families cope with death.
His father didn't react, so Fr. O'Connor repeated it. When his father still seemed not to react, Fr. O'Connor looked closer and saw a tear form at the corner of his father's eye.
The cathedral was filled with politicians, dignitaries and the common people, some of whom stood along the walls. Another 300 or so lined the sidewalks outside, and about 30 more gathered at a nearby hall to watch on television.
At the start of Mass, former Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl, now archbishop of Washington, D.C., greeted Mr. O'Connor's casket at the church door after it was brought by horse-drawn coach, led by city fire and police bagpipe bands.
Prominent in the ceremony were members of the mayor's family. His niece, Kari O'Connor, read from Scripture, and other relatives gave remembrances, carried the bread and wine to the altar and read prayers.
Youngest son Corey O'Connor remembered last year's annual Pennsylvania Society dinner in New York City, when the mayor-to-be insisted on singing the Steelers fight song to the tune of the "Pennsylvania Polka." Then Corey O'Connor led the congregation through the first line, starting, "We're from the town with the great football team . . . "
A surprise speaker was Judy O'Connor, who said that during the recent days of visitations, "Most of my strength has come from the people of Pittsburgh and the people outside of Pittsburgh." She said she could not take a break from shaking all their hands because she was following her husband's example.
The Mass concluded with addresses and blessings by five religious leaders and Archbishop Wuerl.
Mr. O'Connor's final journey through his city began on an Irish note, as bagpipe bands led his horse-drawn casket to the cathedral.
As the oak and glass-paneled horse-drawn coach pulled away from John A. Freyvogel Funeral Home on Centre Avenue, the bands struck up a series of slow Irish aires and laments, including "Highland Cathedral," "Minstrel Boy" and "Wearing of the Green."
The Greater Pittsburgh Police Emerald Society Pipes and Drums, in dress blue shirts, black ties, green kilts and berets, were joined by the Pittsburgh Fire Memorial Band near the head of the procession to the nearby cathedral.
They were followed by the old-fashioned style coach, pulled by two Percherons -- a black horse named Bess and a white named Duke.
At St. Paul, the pews filled in advance of the 11 a.m. Mass. Many politicians and prominent citizens attended, including Gov. Ed Rendell, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, new Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, former Mayors Sophie Masloff and Tom Murphy, and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato. Senatorial candidate Bob Casey Jr. and gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann also attended.
Before the procession began, about 50 friends and family members gathered around Mrs. O'Connor at the funeral home for a private moment. Mrs. O'Connor, her children and grandchildren then walked behind the hearse to the funeral home.
Dozens of men and women in uniform lined the steps of the cathedral on Fifth Avenue as the coach pulled to the front and the bells began to toll. Then they snapped to salute as the casket was carried to the front doors.
After the Mass, the white burial cloth was removed from the casket and an American flag spread atop it for the motorcade trip to Downtown and through city neighborhoods.
The pipers struck up "Going Home."
First Published September 7, 2006 12:00 am