Hundreds Attend Services for U.S. Rep. Silvio Conte
PITTSFIELD, Mass. (AP) _ U.S. Rep. Silvio Conte was among a rare breed of politicians who ″saw politics as an opportunity to serve,″ his former colleagues said at his funeral in the neighborhood where he was born.
″Sadness is not what you think about when you hear the name Silvio Conte,″ former House Speaker Thomas P. ″Tip″ O’Neill Jr. said in his eulogy for his longtime friend, the state’s only Republican congressman.
″He loved life so much and he wanted everyone else to enjoy life, too,″ O’Neill said.
Conte, who counted millworkers and presidents among his friends, died Friday after a long battle with prostate cancer and recent surgery for a blood clot in the brain. He was 69.
Vice President Dan Quayle and House Speaker Thomas Foley led a delegation of more than 100 congressmen, senators and Cabinet members.
″He saw politics as an opportunity to serve and always championed the cause of the little fellow, the disabled, the destitute,″ a teary House Minority Leader Robert Michel, R-Ill., said in his eulogy.
″The secret of his success,″ said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., ″was that he took the issue seriously, but he never took himself too seriously.″
Conte was the ranking minority member on the House Appropriations Committee and for decades one of the most powerful men in Congress because of his ability to forge compromises.
He was a Republican, but he frustrated Republican presidents from Eisenhower to Bush with his determinedly liberal views. In January, he was one of only three House Republicans to oppose the war with Iraq.
People began lining the street in front of St. Joseph’s Church more than two hours before the funeral Mass. Some who could not get into the 1,200-seat church watched the funeral on giant television screens at the Pittsfield Boys and Girls Club down the block.
More than 100 others stood silently outside the church in the February chill during the two-hour service.
″We just wanted to say a last goodbye. We don’t even live in his district,″ said Irene Monaco, who made the hourlong drive from Chicopee with her husband, Carmine. ″We just thought he was one of the finest men.″
″Silvio never forgot the lots of little towns in his district,″ said Arthur Schwenger, a selectman from Heath, a community of 600 tucked between the Berkshires and the Green Mountains of Vermont.