Mourners at a funeral Mass for Peter J. Schmitt, presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, remembered him Monday as a man who could fight fiercely for his conservative beliefs, but the next minute let down his guard as a neighbor and family man.
"No one fought harder for his constituents and for what he believed than Peter Schmitt," said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), delivering the eulogy at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Massapequa. "Yet when the fight was over, he could sit down, relax and share a laugh about it."
Schmitt, 62, died Wednesday after a heart attack in County Executive Edward Mangano's office in Mineola.
Schmitt's funeral was attended by dozens of Nassau political figures -- some his allies, others his foes. Among those in attendance were Mangano, state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Nassau Republican chairman Joseph Mondello.
"I knew both sides of Peter Schmitt, and I'm here because I'm heartbroken," said Legis. Judith Jacobs (D-Woodbury), who found herself on the opposite side of many political battles in the 17 years they knew each other. "We often disagreed, but there wasn't a day we didn't greet each other cordially."
Schmitt's daughter Samantha Kennedy spoke on the same altar where her parents were married 38 years earlier. She recalled a man who still held his wife's hand on the street after nearly 40 years of marriage, who proudly bought bags full of Colgate University merchandise when his daughter was accepted there, and who gurgled and cooed at his new grandson, Logan.
On the Monday before Schmitt's death, "he decided not to go to work, -- and he loved going to work," said Kennedy, 32, of Massapequa. "I believe everything happens for a reason, and I'm so grateful that we had that time together."
Outside the church, two fire trucks held a huge American flag over Merrick Road. Uniformed Nassau police officers were stationed on nearby rooftops, surveying mourners as they arrived. After the service, a procession of mourners followed the hearse on foot, escorted by police motorcycles, across the street to the cemetery at Old Grace Church, where Schmitt was buried.
Flags will continue to fly at half-staff at county buildings through Tuesday in his honor.
"He spoke his mind, and he adhered to his principles," Mangano said before the service. "He was a strong advocate, and a really good friend."
The Rev. Lachlan Cameron, who celebrated the Mass, spoke of Schmitt as a man who put others first, from his wife and daughter to the residents who counted on him.
"We look at a man who gave himself to public service for almost 40 years," Cameron said.