Andrew O'Rourke, former Westchester County exec, recalled as a political giant

Pallbearers transport the casket for former Westchester County

Pallbearers transport the casket for former Westchester County Executive Andrew O'Rourke after his funeral Mass at St. Patrick's Church in Yorktown Heights. (Jan. 9, 2013) (Credit: Xavier Mascarenas)

Hudson Valley political heavyweights gathered with some 200 other mourners Wednesday morning to remember Andrew O'Rourke, a "giant" with a common touch and gentle wisdom.

Party politics were set aside at the funeral for the former Westchester County executive, who was a Republican. Among those paying respects were current County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican; former county executives Andrew Spano and Alfred Del Bello, both Democrats; and Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey.

In addition, a group of Westchester and Putnam county judges gathered at St. Patrick's Church in Yorktown Heights in black robes to honor O'Rourke, who served as a State Supreme Court justice after his tenure as county executive.


VIDEO: Westchester politicians remember Andrew O'Rourke


In her remarks, O'Rourke's daughter, Alice Rodd O'Rourke, 58, an executive for the American Red Cross, took note of the lineup of county executives.

"I keep thinking one's missing, and I'm thinking I know which one is missing," she said.

Her father, who suffered from dyslexia that hurt his school grades, was a "giant," she said. "He filled our pockets with stars that will last forever."

She said her father made great fudge, loved pageantry and would offer homespun advice like: "Never be photographed with a drink in your hand" and "Remember the most desperate person you encounter was once someone's baby."

The deeds of the longtime politician "live on," said the Rev. Edward Kane, a retired Army chaplain who, like O'Rourke, served in the 69th Infantry Regiment, also known as the Fighting Sixty-Ninth.

O'Rourke, who died last week at age 79 after a lengthy illness, modernized the county airport, expanded the parks system and introduced a widely copied welfare-to-work program during his 14-year tenure as county executive.

Andy O'Rourke Jr., recalled that his father loved being county executive.

"He felt he was the luckiest man in the world because he had the greatest job," O'Rourke Jr. said.

After the service, fellow politicians continued to praise O'Rourke, saying they valued his friendship and his ability to reach across the aisle.

"Andrew O'Rourke was a good friend," Lowey said. "We worked on so many issues in Westchester together. Party didn't matter. We worked together in a bipartisan way."

Astorino recalled O'Rourke's advice on how to cope with the demanding county executive's job: "Make sure the day ends and that you go home to your family."

When the coffin emerged from the modern brick church, a Westchester County police helicopter flew overhead in salute. A dozen police motorcycles from assorted municipalities led the motorcade of the hearse carrying O'Rourke's body toward a private burial.

O'Rourke served as Westchester's county executive from 1983 to 1998. A fiscal conservative, he worked on reducing county welfare rolls, keeping taxes down and cutting government costs by privatizing some county jobs. He pushed through multimillion-dollar projects to rebuild the Westchester County Center, renovate Westchester County Airport and expand the county jail.

While county executive, he ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1986 against incumbent Mario Cuomo.

A native of Plainfield, N.J., O'Rourke grew up in the Hell's Kitchen section of Manhattan. He later moved to Yonkers and graduated from Fordham University in 1954.

After serving in the Air Force, he returned to Fordham for his law degree and was admitted to the bar in 1962. He later enrolled in the NYU School of Law and obtained a law doctorate in 1965.

Before becoming county executive, O'Rourke was a member of the Yonkers City Council from 1966 to 1973, followed by a stint as a member of the County Board of Legislators from 1973 to 1982, including the last four years as chairman.

He is survived by his wife, Flora; three children, Aileen, Alice and Andy Jr.; and six grandchildren.

With Gerald McKinstry

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