Barbara “Bobbie” Bruno, wife of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, was remembered Monday as an unpretentious woman who never lost sight of what was most important.
“Bobbie was the rock, really, of the family and of my life,” said her husband at a memorial service at St. Pius X Church. Cardinal Edward Egan, Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, and Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard presided, along with the Rev. Michael Farano, pastor of St. Pius X.
In attendance were the political leaders of New York, including Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Lt. Gov. David Paterson, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, along with New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and many state legislators and other officials from both parties.
Bruno, R-Brunswick, and his family greeted the leaders, including Spitzer, with whom the senator has had a stormy political relationship.
“Joe’s a friend. He’s been a friend,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, outside the church. “This is family. It’s not politics.”
Barbara Bruno, 77, died Jan. 7 at the family’s Rensselaer County home after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
The Brunos, who have four children and seven grandchildren, would have celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary in March.
Bruno’s delivery of the eulogy came as a surprise, as it had been expected that two of his children would step up.
“I outvoted them,” the Senate leader joked, his voice at first thick with emotion. But he quickly recovered and launched into a speech without notes, as he does routinely on political issues.
This time, it wasn’t about politics, except to mention that Mrs. Bruno didn’t like the phoniness of the business, or want her husband to go into it.
Long before he did that, when he was courting her in the late 1940s, they had to overcome the resistance of her family. Bobbie, the senator said, was the daughter of a Presbyterian surgeon in Glens Falls, whose family was not happy about the prospect of her marrying an Italian-American “literally from the wrong side of the tracks.”
Back then, the senator said, he was a young man from a poor family who spoke roughly, using terms such as “youse guys,” and he had limited prospects.
“I would not have gone to college if it wasn’t for Bobbie,” he said. “Bobbie taught me English.” Without his wife, Bruno said, “I never would have done much more than exist. She showed me a better life.”
He also talked about his wife’s support for the underprivileged and for stray animals. Mrs. Bruno’s charitable interests included humane and historical societies.
The senator is a Roman Catholic but his wife did not convert. Farano, the church’s pastor, is a family friend who, like the Brunos, grew up in Glens Falls.
Also participating in the service was an Episcopal priest, the Rev. Nigel Mumford, director of Christ the King Center in Greenwich. He, too, became a family friend, Bruno said.
After Mumford prayed with Mrs. Bruno, four months before her death, she no longer needed her pain medications, Bruno said. “It was like a miracle,” he said. She received hospice care at home, and died in her sleep, with the senator and their children around her.
“That was Bobbie’s last gift to us, I believe,” Bruno said.
Egan told Bruno: “You gave a powerful, powerful sermon today,” about the central importance of family and marriage, at a time when they are under stress.
The church was packed beneath its vaulted wooden ceiling.
An organist played and the congregation sang several hymns: “All Creatures of Our God and King,” “Prayer of St. Francis,” “Shall We Gather at the River,” and “All People That on Earth Do Dwell.”
Family friend Gloria Brilling sang “Ave Maria.” Scripture readings were from Proverbs, First Corinthians, and the Gospel of St. John.
Assemblyman Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, said after the service: “She was just a sweet lady. What a great partner for a great man.”
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