Good-Bye, Gerry: Pols, Family Mourn Loss of ‘Trailblazer’ Geraldine Ferraro

Friends, family and political heavyweights – including a former president – gathered at an upper East Side church Thursday to pay final respects to trailblazer Geraldine Ferraro, a woman who tore down barriers for females in politics and was the first female candidate for U.S. vice president on a major party ticket.

A who’s who of Democrats attended the funeral mass at the Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer including President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, House Democrat Nancy Pelosi, ex-Vice President Walter Mondale, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Ferraro died on March 26 from a type of blood cancer at age 75. In eulogies at the mass and remarks to the media, they remembered Ferraro as someone who shattered the glass ceiling with grace and aplomb.    

“She was a woman who was a trailblazer,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, speaking to reporters prior to the service. “She was an icon. She was someone who was a fighter, who fought every step of the way.”

Gillibrand said she hoped to live up to Ferraro’s legacy by continuing some of the fights she started for gender equality: “We need to do more, we need to do better,” she said.

As rain drizzled over Manhattan early Thursday morning, pallbearers hoisted the coffin out of a hearse and brought it into the Lexington Avenue church.   

Ferraro is survived by her husband, John Zaccaro, and their three children, Donna, John Jr. and Laura.

“Gerry being chosen as the Vice Presidential nominee showed us what we could be, what modern women in America had become,” said U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski in her eulogy. “Women felt if we could go to the White House, we could go for anything.”

Mikulski, who served with Ferraro in Congress, pointed out many things have changed since 1976, when there were only 16 women. Today, she said, there are 74 Congresswomen.

When Ferraro accepted running as Walter Mondale’s vice presidential running mate, it became a watershed moment for women around the country, Mikulski and others said. Despite the landslide victory Ronald Reagan had that year, women felt empowered after hearing those famous words uttered to a standing ovation in Moscone Center in San Francisco in July 1984.

“My name is Geraldine Ferraro. I stand before you to proclaim tonight: America is the land where dreams can come true for all of us.”

Walter Mondale, who also gave a eulogy, said that as they campaigned, Ferraro was treated in a way that her male counterparts were not, but that it only made her “tougher and better.”

During a debate, Reagan’s vice presidential running mate, George H.W. Bush, offered to explain foreign policy to Ferraro. She famously retorted that he ought to stop patronizing her.

Ferraro was tapped for the vice presidential run after serving three terms in the House of Representatives. She was first elected to Congress in 1978 from New York’s Congressional District in Queens. Before that she worked for four years as an Assistant District Attorney in Queens.

Speaking to the media after the mass, Schumer said Ferraro’s accomplishments were historic in themselves, but what made her great was that she never let the success get to her head: “Her legacy is twofold,” he said. “One: You can achieve almost anything. And two: Never give up.”

John Zaccaro Jr., remarked that while his mother’s political accomplishments were great, they “paled in comparison” to what she achieved as a wife during her 50 years of marriage. She was a mother who spent 13 years at home raising her children before going back to work when they were of school age.

There was one request bestowed upon him by his mother regarding her grandchildren, though, that he could not fulfill: “I politely declined her request to name any of them Geraldine, including my son.”

Mondale, remembering his days on the campaign trail with Ferraro, said the same tenacity and perseverance he observed in her then could be seen in her battle with cancer.

“If they ever make another movie called ‘True Grit’,” he said.  “it should be about Gerry and her incredible pluck and courage.”

The Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer
The Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer ( Mirela Iverac/WNYC )
( Mirela Iverac/WNYC )
( Mirela Iverac/WNYC )
Secretary of State Madeline Albright
Secretary of State Madeline Albright ( Mirela Iverac/WNYC )
Senator Chuck Schumer
Senator Chuck Schumer ( Mirela Iverac/WNYC )
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand ( Mirela Iverac/WNYC )
Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Mayor Michael Bloomberg ( Mirela Iverac/WNYC )