If mourners in St. Stephen's Episcopal Church could have turned the clock back a month or two to a happier time, they might have had a perfect opportunity to "work the room."
The crowd of 700 to 800 people attended the funeral Friday of State Sen. Patricia K. McGee, a former Cattaraugus County legislator and assemblywoman from Franklinville who was re-elected last November to a third term representing the 57th District.
McGee, 70, died last Saturday after a long battle with progressive pulmonary fibrosis. Earlier that week, illness had prevented the Franklinville Republican who held elective office for 27 years from voting on the first on-time state budget in 20 years.
The service was broadcast on a closed-circuit television to the overflow crowd in two tents across the street in Lincoln Park.
The mourners included Reps. John R. "Randy" Kuhl, R-Bath, and Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence; Assembly Minority Leader Paul A. Tokasz, D-Cheektowaga; John P. Cahill, Gov. George E. Pataki's senior policy adviser; and Assemblywoman Catharine Young, R-Olean.
In delivering a tribute to McGee, State Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, said he often was surprised that the "quiet lady" really was in charge of things.
"She wasn't confrontational and didn't challenge you. She just reasoned you to the right place, but could stubbornly resist other lawmakers' attempts to convince her when she didn't want to be convinced on other issues," Bruno said.
He joked that McGee, whose death and funeral occurred on the same days as those of Pope John Paul II, might have been trying to upstage the pontiff.
McGee's funeral also drew a number of the Southern Tier's community leaders who depended on her efforts for program funding. Many of them said McGee would have been rendered speechless at the turnout.
Seated among the dignitaries were many advocates and members of organizations she often helped with "member item" grants: a poverty lawyer, a temporarily homeless resident from the shelter, animal rescuers, senior citizens, farmers and owners of small businesses.
In the homily, the Rev. James Snodgrass, said McGee was aware of her own "down-to-earth" essence, apart from her public persona, and this was apparent when she helped protect the area's pure spring-fed water or recognized a special volunteer at the homeless shelter next door.
McGee's brother, Dana "Skip" Gould, said that when visitors expressed worry during her recent hospitalization, she would say "suck it up," describing her condition as "ginger peachy."
She kept the news of her impending death from family members to save them from stress and pain, he said. Only after she lost the ability to speak in her last few days did McGee write on a note pad, "Summon the troops."
"She accomplished things silently and well," said Sharon Hill-McLarney of Portville, McGee's longtime chief of staff.
Hill-McLarney described the senator as a compassionate leader who tried to look at an issue from all views, achieving the difficult tasks of giving politics a good name, treating her constituents with respect and establishing a nurturing atmosphere among a diverse staff.
After the service, St. Bonaventure University held a reception on its campus.