Former Nassau County Executive Francis Purcell, who died Sunday in Florida at the age of 95, was remembered at a funeral Mass in Malverne Thursday as a plain-spoken public servant, a skilled athlete, a dedicated World War II Army veteran and a devoted husband and father.
Purcell, who was the face of the county's Republican Party for more than a decade, never lost an election in his 40-year political career, winning three terms as county executive.
During an hourlong service at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, friends and family recalled Purcell's calm demeanor during trying times -- illustrated most famously when he told a constituent who was complaining about snow clogging area streets that, given enough time, "snow melts." The phrase, family members said, will go on Purcell's headstone.
"His ability to relate to the middle class in this county resonated in victories at the polls," said Stephen Kohut, Purcell's son-in-law. "But it was an honest relationship that people recognized and responded to."
Purcell's son, Kim, recalled an occasion when his father was the mayor of Malverne and two men came to the house to offer him "compensation for a favorable decision on their behalf." Francis Purcell threw the men out of the house, said Purcell, of Mooresville, North Carolina.
"My father was a man of few words but a man of great character and integrity," he said.
Purcell's successors as Nassau County executive -- Republican Thomas Gulotta, Democrat Thomas Suozzi and the GOP incumbent, Edward Mangano -- attended the Mass and recalled how Purcell would send notes of encouragement or call with tips of advice.
"He would always remind me that there was life beyond the stress of the job," Mangano said.
Gulotta, who became county executive in 1987 after Purcell left the post a year into his third term to become a political commentator with News 12 Long Island, said Purcell left him a note in his desk that he read on his first day in office.
"The note said, 'Always be true to your beliefs' and 'Always do what you feel is right and don't worry about the consequences,' " Gulotta said.
Suozzi said Purcell crossed party lines to contribute to his 2001 county executive campaign. "He was a wonderful man and a real genuine person," Suozzi said.
Purcell, whose family moved to Malverne in 1932, was a baseball and basketball star at Malverne High School. Purcell was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, but before joining the major league squad, he enlisted in the Army. Purcell served in World War II, helping to liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp from the Nazis.
He was discharged from the Army as a captain in 1945.Purcell and his wife, Barbara, who survives him, married in 1942 and had three children. The couple stayed married for 72 years.
Purcell served eight years as mayor of the Village of Malverne, and later was elected to the state Assembly. He served as Hempstead Town supervisor and as presiding supervisor.
He ran for county executive in 1977 and defeated GOP County Executive Ralph Caso in a GOP primary and then easily won the general election. He was elected to two more terms.
Purcell was buried yesterday at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale.