Being in the public eye is part of the job of any elected official, but the vast majority of responsibilities heaped upon local politicians are for the most part mundane and thankless. Like every great local politician Ralph knows the names of all the cops and firemen, every teacher in the district and the local restaurant owners. The tools of his trade are like so many other mayors across the nation—helmets and shovels to break ground, oversized scissors to cut ribbons, and proclamations to reward citizens for outstanding service to the community. Behind it all, though, politics can be an ugly business; one in which many politicians eventually crack and lose their sense of self, or worse yet, their humanity.
This is not one of those stories.
During the snowstorm that besieged the Island last week, the mayor’s wife, Jane Beckhard-Suozzi, was home when she heard a familiar voice on the answering machine in the background. It was Reb Irwin Huberman from Congregation Tifereth Israel, the conservative temple in town. He was calling to let them know that a local woman and member of the congregation, Patricia Workman, had passed away in her apartment the night before.
In a city of more than 30,000 people, death is no stranger. What made this call different was the fact that Pat, as most people in town knew her, had no family. She was a child of Glen Cove. “The city adopted her,” said Ralph. “She had her own challenges in life and needed help from assorted people in the community and people rose to that.”
Pat led a troubled life. Her piercing blue eyes and ever-present smile belied a lifetime of hardship many of us cannot even dream of. The pressures of her past and a diseased mind plagued her existence. And yet, through it all, she had a smile for everyone she saw.
Jane described the flurry of phone calls and e-mails between Reb Huberman, his congregation and community leaders. “Help was sort of a central theme of her life,” says Jane. “She needed help and she gave help.” Word of Pat’s passing spread quickly through the city, as did the realization that her next of kin was not a person, but an entire city. As Reb Huberman reached out to community members to raise funds for a dignified service, Mayor Suozzi cleared hurdles to ensure that the process wouldn’t be delayed unnecessarily.
By 1 p.m. the following day, more than 100 people had gathered at Dodge Thomas Funeral Home in Glen Cove to honor the life of Patricia Workman. Of all the duties expected of a local public servant, attending funerals is a must. As her husband rose to address Pat’s adopted family members, Jane said it suddenly struck him that this was the “first time they had been to a funeral when there wasn’t someone there saying, ‘Thank you for coming.’ So Ralph had everyone turn to the person next to them and say, ‘Thank you for coming.’”
Pat deserved a better life on this earth. In the end, the community she adopted gave her the peaceful and loving conclusion that her smile and spirit warranted. “The community we know as Glen Cove is the people,” reflected Ralph. “Their personalities, their hearts, the history they all bring. It just has a soul of its own that we’re all a part of. It’s a generational soul. We collectively watch out for each other.”