James Conte remembered as father, legislator

Grieving family and friends embrace after the funeral Grieving family and friends embrace after the funeral Mass for Assemb. James Conte Saturday at St. Hugh of Lincoln Roman Catholic Church in Huntington Station. (Oct. 20, 2012) Photo Credit: John Roca

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James Conte might have been a tenacious politician on the floor of the State Assembly, but as he was laid to rest Saturday in his hometown, he was remembered as Jimmy: proud father, talented guitarist, crusader for organ donation.

Hundreds of mourners, including dozens of family members, longtime friends and lawmakers -- both Republicans and Democrats -- turned out for a morning funeral Mass at St. Hugh of Lincoln Roman Catholic Church in Huntington Station.

Baptized there, Conte later sang in the church choir and attended Catholic school, participating in student musicals such as "Guys and Dolls."

"He loved to entertain," said his brother, Robert Conte, 47, who described the lawmaker as a family man who opened his home to friends and politicians.

The gatherings often involved Italian fare of calamari and stuffed shells, followed by laughter, stories and rock music performances they called "Jimmy Jams," Robert Conte said.

James Conte, 53, represented the 10th District, which includes parts of Nassau and Suffolk, for nearly 25 years. He died Tuesday of cancer.

Conte, a Republican, won his seat in March 1988 during a special election. He successfully ran for re-election later that year and every two years until he declined his nomination in July to focus on his battle with T-cell lymphoma.

For years, Conte also lived with kidney problems, requiring two transplants.

Several people attending the funeral wore "Donate Life" pins, in honor of his work reforming the organ donation system.

Conte co-sponsored Lauren's Law, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed earlier this month. The law, which takes effect next year, requires new driver's license applicants to answer whether they want to join the state's list of donors, who must be at least 18 to sign up. The question is currently optional.

"He focused on who he needed to help," said state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), who spoke at Saturday's service.

Flanagan said Conte "flew under the radar" and didn't hold many press events. On trips to Albany, Conte spoke fondly of his wife, Debra, and his three children, Sarah, Samantha and Jeffrey, Flanagan said.

A private burial immediately followed the Mass, at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Huntington.

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