GOP Leader Anthony Pace announces his retirement on May 10,...

GOP Leader Anthony Pace announces his retirement on May 10, 1988 in Bayshore. Credit: Newsday / Argreroplos

Anthony Pace, a grandmaster of politics who became Suffolk's most powerful Republican leader, died Friday, a day after fulfilling his wish to spend Thanksgiving with his family in West Islip.

Pace, 87, who had checked out of a Florida hospital on Tuesday, "had Thanksgiving with all 30 of us," said Dennis Faherty, his son-in-law. "We had a fun-filled, memorable day."

Pace fell ill on Friday, dying of cardiac arrest at Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Islip.

As Islip Town GOP Committee chair for 18 years until 1988, Pace scored many victories and notable upsets for candidates including Peter Fox Cohalan, a former town supervisor and county executive.

"He loved the game of politics, he loved outthinking people, he had a great sense of humor, and he was great at sizing people up," said Cohalan, a retired state Supreme Court justice.

Pace was one of the first to support Alfonse D'Amato's bid for a U.S. Senate seat.

"Talk about grass-root politics -- Anthony was one of the pioneers of door-to-door campaigning. He was a legend. He was a dear friend and he will be missed," D'Amato said in an email.

Born in the Bronx, Pace was an Army private from October 1945 to December 1946.

The Fordham University graduate received a Brooklyn Law School degree on June 14, 1951 -- two days before he married the woman he met in college, Filomena, called "Babe."

The Pace family has deep roots in West Islip. Pace partnered with one brother, John, in a law firm, developed thousands of homes with another brother, Frank, and helped run the family's oil and insurance companies.

Pace started working for Islip Town in 1963, became town attorney in 1967 and served as assistant county attorney for 11 years.

The GOP town leader transitioned the party to the modern era, paying off the $5,000 debt he inherited and growing its net worth to more than $1 million when he retired.

But initially, the GOP establishment rebuffed him. Suffolk Republican chairman Howard DeMartini said Pace gave him a chance by tapping him for Cohalan's 1979 primary campaign for county executive. Spurned by his party's pollsters, Pace also approved the hiring of the then-Democratic pollster Dick Morris. "Whatever I accomplished in Suffolk County politics is largely due to what I learned from him," DeMartini said.

Cohalan said Pace ran the political operation and left him free to manage the government.

They were unorthodox. "Sometimes we would have make-believe fights to confuse the opposition -- and also to have some fun," Cohalan said.

Pace is survived by brother John and sister Josephine Grenci, both of West Islip, four children, 11 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

Visitation is at Chapey & Sons Funeral Home in West Islip, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday and 2 to 4:30 p.m. and 7 to 9:30 p.m. Monday. A funeral Mass will be Tuesday at 9:45 a.m. at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Babylon. Interment will follow at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale.

With Rick Brand

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