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Trailblazer Geraldine Ferraro Honored at Funeral Mass

By Amy Zimmer | March 31, 2011 9:14am | Updated on March 31, 2011 11:45am

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

UPPER EAST SIDE — Political trailblazer Geraldine Ferraro was honored by a collection of family and friends at a funeral mass at the Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer on the Upper East Side Thursday morning.

Ferraro, who passed away from cancer Saturday at Massachusetts General Hospital at the age of 75, served as a Queens Congresswoman and was the first woman to run as a vice presidential nominee on a major party ticket when she ran alongside Democrat Walter Mondale in 1984.

The private funeral service at 9:30 a.m. Thursday drew many of the city and the nation’s top politicians and dignitaries.

Among those present who gave a eulogy were former Vice President Mondale, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Ferraro's three children.

Matt Lauer leaving Geraldine Ferraro's wake on Tuesday.
Matt Lauer leaving Geraldine Ferraro's wake on Tuesday.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose family was extremely close with Ferraro, were also in attendance.

By early Thursday, police barricades lined Lexington Avenue near 66th Street as mourners gathered at the nearly-century-old Catholic church. Instead of flowers, Ferraro's family has asked for donations to be made to charities including two myeloma research foundations. She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, in 1998.

When Ferraro was nominated as a vice presidential candidate there was only one woman in the Senate, Mondale noted in his prepared remarks.

Now, he pointed out, there are 17 female senators, 88 women in the house (including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the first female Majority leader, who attended the mass), six governors, three supreme court justices on the bench and three women who have been secretary of state — two of whom were speaking Thursday.

"It wasn’t just politics that was re-set. Change can be seen everywhere in American life," Mondale said. "Gerry drew enormous crowds, always packed with thousands of mothers and, yes, fathers, who had brought their young daughters to see the miracle of this intelligent, handsome, brave, gutsy fighter and leader."

The word "gutsy" was echoed by others.

"It was a lovely ceremony," Albright told reporters afterward. "Eveyone was celebrating the great gutsiness of Geraldine Ferraro. I think we all had a similar theme that she opened doors for many women."

Gillibrand recounted to reporters how Ferraro inspired her at the 1984 Democratic National Convention when she said, "It's not what America can do for women, it's what women can do for America."

She was a housewife from Queens who became a national icon, but she always remained "down-to-earth," Schumer added. "She was world-famous, but to her bones, she was a New Yorker."

Her children spoke highly of Ferraro's political accomplishments, but also painted a portrait of an incredibly devoted mother and wife, who taught them perseverance, shared recipes for manicotti and whose strength shone bright during these 12 years she was living with cancer.

"Despite whatever was going on in her professional life when we were growing up, home cooked family dinners were sacred and not to be missed," her daughter Donna Zaccaro Ullman said, according to prepared remarks.

"By her words and actions she was our model of how to life in the world," Ullman said.

When their mother was first diagnosed with myeloma she assured her children that she would fight it, but Ullman also said that her mother told them "she had accomplished everything she had hoped to in life — and then some – and was at peace with her situation."

The Church of St. Vincent Ferrer on Lexington Ave. at 68th Street was a hub of friends and family paying their respects to Geraldine Ferraro Thursday.
The Church of St. Vincent Ferrer on Lexington Ave. at 68th Street was a hub of friends and family paying their respects to Geraldine Ferraro Thursday.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

"She never gave up hope and never stopped doing," Ullman continued. "When she became confined to a wheel chair last year, she reorganized every cabinet and closet, continued consulting and commentating from home, and even started new projects with both of my children."

Before making a splash in the political world, Ferraro was a public school teacher and lawyer, heading the Special Victims Bureau of the Queens County District Attorney’s Office.

Ferraro’s daughter Laura Zaccaro Lee said when she was growing up, she hadn’t realized how impressive it was that her mother was one of three women in law school. It wasn’t until Lee was in medical school that she realized "what a gift" it was that half of her classmates were women.

"She took many professional risks during her life and not all of them turned out the way she hoped. But she never expressed regret," Lee said in prepared remarks. "I was captivated by her fierce fighting spirit, her optimism, her love for me and my family and her ability to tackle each and every challenge."

Ferraro is survived by her husband of 50 years, John Zaccaro, her three children and eight grandchildren.  She will be buried on Thursday at a cemetery in Middle Village, Queens.

Former Gov. Mario Cuomo and Matilda Cuomo after attending Geraldine Ferraro's wake on Tuesday.
Former Gov. Mario Cuomo and Matilda Cuomo after attending Geraldine Ferraro's wake on Tuesday.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer