MIDTOWN EAST — New York's top politicians, young and old, joined hundreds of people gathered at St. Patrick's Cathedral Thursday to remember former Gov. Hugh Carey, who passed away Sunday morning at the age of 92.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Chuck Schumer were among the dozens of politicians who attended the funeral, where Carey was celebrated in death just as he lived, according to friends and family — with humor and song.
"He would sing an Irish song at the drop of a hat," said Harlem Rep. Charles Rangel on his way into the service. "He loved every day of life."
During the ceremony, Erich Collins Carey, one of the former governor's 25 grandchildren, performed a folk song he wrote titled "The Ballad of the Great Hugh Carey."
Later, five of his 14 children shared memories of their dad, who served in World War II and in the House of Representatives before taking the reins in Albany in 1975. One of the sons, Christopher Owen Carey, spoke of his father's capacity for levity in times of grief, recalling a moment during his mother's funeral when the former governor realized he was wearing two different pairs of shoes.
"He looked up and he exclaimed 'She got me one last time,'" Christopher remembered. "Meaning that our mother played one last joke on him.
"That line was typical Hugh Carey," he added. "In a moment of great emotion and sadness, he brought humor and light."
Carey was no stranger to tough times, having lived through his wife's untimely death in 1974 and the deaths of three sons.
Dubbed the "governor for hard winters," he inherited an economy on the brink of bankruptcy.
On their way into Thursday's ceremony, many politicians took the opportunity to credit Carey with saving New York City during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s.
"His leadership during the fiscal crisis is something that we sorely miss," said Richard Ravitch, who worked with Carey to restore fiscal stability in the '70s and returned to the issue as lieutenant governor under Gov. David Paterson. "He faced monumental difficulty and he handled it with grace."
Carey, who served two terms, is so well remembered for his handling of New York's economic woes that former archbishop Edward Cardinal Egan, a personal friend of Carey's, who also presided over the funeral, worried that his other accomplishments had been overshadowed.
Egan urged mourners to recall Carey's commitment to people with disabilities, his advocacy for the working class and his opposition to the death penalty.
"Yes, he was tough, a leader, but he was a lover of people too," said former Gov. Mario Cuomo, foreshadowing the cardinal's remarks.
Cuomo, who served as Carey's lieutenant governor before succeeding him and whose son, Andrew Cuomo, is the current governor, did not mince words about his former boss's legacy.
"He was the most effective governor in New York history," Cuomo declared.