NEW YORK – He knew the words to many an Irish ballad, raised 14 children in his Brooklyn home and considered Frank Sinatra a friend.
Former Gov. Hugh Carey's "larger than life" personality was celebrated by friends, family and political acquaintances — both friends and foes — at a funeral Mass on Thursday at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Although he is credited with leading New York out of an economic crisis as governor in the 1970s, Carey also was remembered as a World War II Army colonel who liberated concentration camps; a savvy lawmaker whose tenure on the House Ways and Means Committee prepared him for the economic challenges he would later face in Albany; and a compassionate chief executive who never turned his back on the underprivileged.
The seven-term Democratic congressman, who was governor from 1975 to 1982, died Sunday at the age of 92.
Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, former Gov. Mario Cuomo and his son Andrew — the current governor — U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel and former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, were joined by Republicans, including former Gov. George Pataki, former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and U.S. Rep. Peter King of Long Island.
"We've all been to too many tragic funerals," Pataki said after the service, which was attended by about 1,500 people. "This is one where we could momentarily set aside the sadness of the loss and appreciate and enjoy the wonderful life and the wonderful service of a great New Yorker.'
Despite being a well-known public figure, it was Carey's large family who took center stage at the service, and in his life.
One of Carey's grandchildren performed an original song, "The Ballad of the Great Hugh Carey," on a guitar, five of his children spoke of their father's lifetime of service, and 31 of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren carried communion and wine to the altar during the service.
"Hugh Carey was a political leader par excellence," Cardinal Edward Egan said. "Never in my lifetime has this beloved nation of ours so urgently needed to learn the lessons of faithful and loving married life that Helen and Hugh quietly and powerfully taught us all."
Former Gov. Cuomo called Carey "the most effective governor in our modern history."
"He, in fact, saved New York City in the '70s," Mario Cuomo said. "When he saved New York City, he saved New York state. He protected the honor of the whole country. Imagine what Moscow would have said if New York City went bankrupt."
Koch said he always enjoyed working with Carey. "He had a terrific sense of humor," Koch said. "And he had a marvelous Irish tenor."
Schumer said of Carey: "His family, his faith and his community were what gave him the strength to do what he did."
Carey took office on Jan. 1, 1975, amid the worst economic climate since the Great Depression. New York City was nearing bankruptcy, threatening to bring the Empire State down with it.
Declaring the "days of wine and roses are over," Carey took drastic action, seizing control of the city's finances, engineering more than $1 billion in state loans and mustering the backing needed to reorganize its shaky finances and restore confidence.
He then won federal loan guarantees from the reluctant Republican administration of President Gerald Ford that secured the plan. Ford's hesitancy made front-page news, immortalized in the paraphrased New York Daily News headline: "Ford To City: Drop Dead."
His daughter, Marianne Carey Hayes, said her father was willing to share credit for his accomplishments during the financial crisis. "He was always quick to point out it was due to an incredible team he put together," she said.
Carey also campaigned successfully for the appointment, rather than election, of judges to the state's highest court, a move that was seen as insulating the Court of Appeals from politics.
Before he became governor, Carey spent 14 years in Congress representing his Brooklyn district.
Carey and his first wife, Helen, had 14 children. Two sons died in a car accident in 1969, and Helen, who had cancer, died in 1974.
His accomplishments were sometimes overshadowed by gaffes, however, such as an offer to drink a glass of toxic PCBs to downplay contamination of a state office building.
His 1981 marriage to millionaire Evangeline Gouletas was troubled from the start. Carey's new bride had said she was twice married and her first husband had died; the truth was she had been married three times and all her exes were still alive. Carey and Gouletas divorced in 1989.