(photo in the Oval Office, from Staten Island Advance website)
Early this morning, a gentleman died who was certainly my earliest professional role model-- a former boss who influenced my life greatly. More importantly, he is family-- a cousin.
I have written several times before here about the fact that I worked for a member of Congress in his district office during the early 1980's. Guy V. Molinari represented Staten Island where I grew up; and I worked part-time for him there while I was commuting to college at NYU. I had actually first served in his district office when he was in the New York State Assembly, and then moved up to his congressional office after he was elected in 1980. I had also worked on all of his campaigns.
He was a huge figure back home. He was described today as a "giant", an "icon", a "power broker". You can find the stories and tributes in the New York Times and the Staten Island Advance. Tributes have already been made by former President George H.W. Bush, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Bloomberg and Chuck Schumer.
Guy was a former Marine and a fighter. He was a bigger-than-life figure who had the rare capability of filling up any room that he entered, even though he was slight in size. He literally made sparks fly in the office, and had a mischievous sense of humor. He was a gifted, passionate, smart public speaker who knew how to work a crowd.
He was conservative and pro-life. Back home, he made his reputation by fighting various undesirable, unwanted projects that were targeted for Staten Island, which had become a dumping ground for the democratic socialist elite in Albany and Manhattan. He was given credit today for putting Staten Island on the map politically-- and, in fact, he did.
His election to Congress in 1980 was an amazing time. Reagan was elected that day, and the Republicans took control of the Senate. All of us were so enthusiastic because things were going to be so much better than they had been-- and, in fact, they were. He was part of the Reagan Revolution that rejuvenated the country and restored a sense of patriotism that had been lost.
In fact, during his early years in politics, he made a point to identify and deliver special messages to people who would fly the American flag outside their homes. I remember riding my bike as a teen to help him do this. I also remember visiting his law office on Saturday mornings when he conducted constituent services during his early years in the State Assembly. It was such a blast to be around him and the work he was doing.
His greatest contribution was being in a position to tap Rudy Giuliani to run for mayor of New York City. He was serving as Borough President of Staten Island at that time, and was the highest ranking Republican in the city. He therefore had a huge part in transforming the city from being a filthy, terrible, crime-ridden place to becoming a place that people across the country were eager to visit. It was an enormous, positive change; and Guy had a key part in making it happen through his close political alliance and relationship with Giuliani.
He had an amazing life. Beside serving in the midst of combat operations in Korea, and all his political work, he also had the opportunity to meet and know some of the most significant people of that time-- Ronald Reagan, Bush, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra, George Steinbrenner, etc. He even had a private audience with Pope John Paul II.
He was a pugnacious, politically incorrect partisan who kept the home crowd constantly entertained with his public comments.
I have made it a point to try to visit with him at least once per year. Over the last decade, he has had various health issues; and has been mostly confined to his home. He suffered chronic pain with great dignity. My mother told me a few weeks ago that his health was declining even further, and I had a chance to speak with him by phone about ten days ago. He told me that he had been in and out of the hospital, and that on one occasion, he had almost passed away.
And then it actually happened this morning, just a few months short of his 90th birthday.
I can't help but feel grateful for such a consequential life, and to have had the opportunity to be so close to it for a time. He was a great man who will be sorely missed. He served during a time when conservatives were really conservatives.