Generations of New York journalists and political leaders joined Jimmy Breslin's family Wednesday in celebrating the life of the pugnacious Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who championed the downtrodden and battled corrupt public officials for more than five decades.
Breslin, who died Sunday at age 88, was remembered as a peerless prose stylist whether he wrote about sports stars, gangsters or a bit player in a national tragedy.
Michael Daly, the Daily Beast correspondent who like Breslin was a longtime columnist at the Daily News, held up a New York City press pass and said, "Nobody ever brought more honor to this pass than he did."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo recalled Breslin's long friendship with Cuomo's late father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, dating to 1969 in Queens. He said that if his father were still alive, "He would say Jimmy was an artist and his pen was to paper what Picasso's brush was to canvas."
Cuomo said that as an 11-year-old boy, he found Breslin "just plain scary," echoing remarks by other speakers who described the gruff demeanor that belied Breslin's deep love for his family.
Breslin's son Kevin Breslin surveyed the packed pews at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament on Manhattan's West Side and said, "Thank you for coming because I'm not sure he would come here for any of us."
Kevin Breslin recalled the time a neighbor came over to wish his father a merry Christmas and his father responded, "Yeah, kid? What's so merry about it?"
Breslin's widow, former City Council member Ronnie Eldridge, described their marriage in the same church 34 years ago as the union between a Jewish widow with three children and an Irish Catholic widower with six children who "just seemed to get each other."
She said Breslin continued to write tirelessly in his later years although he never understood the internet and had trouble pulling up the latest version of a story on his computer.
"He never wanted to let a day go by without working," Eldridge said.
Breslin wrote more than 20 books as well as countless columns for the Daily News and other New York newspapers.
He covered President John F. Kennedy's funeral by interviewing the gravedigger, and he won a 1986 Pulitzer Prize for commentary that included a column that used one man's story to shine a light on the AIDs epidemic.
Other political figures at Breslin's funeral included Former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger.
But Breslin's closest associates included bookies and bail bondsmen .
A young Kevin Breslin was once hustled to criminal court and instructed to sit in the front row at the arraignment of one of his father's friends, Fat Thomas.
"The judge says to Fat Thomas, 'Excuse me, do you have any family members here?'" Kevin Breslin recalled. "Fat says yes. That was my cue. At that point I waved at the judge. Fat Thomas was immediately released, and everybody thought I did a marvelous job."
Breslin became part of a news story in 1977 when he received several letters from serial killer David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz.
Berkowitz said he found Breslin's column "very informative." Breslin called Berkowitz "the only killer I ever knew who knew how to use a semicolon."