The following is the eulogy delivered by Council Member Eric Ulrich at former Councilman Tom Ognibene’s funeral on October 16, 2015 at Sacred Heart Church in Glendale.
My dear friends, today we celebrate the life of a truly extraordinary individual: A loving father and grandfather, a devoted husband, a brilliant lawyer, a passionate public servant, a Renaissance man who shared his gifts and talents with others.
It would be impossible to put into words the profound impact that Tom Ognibene had on our lives. He was larger than life in so many ways. He was a giant!
However, I shall try my best to merely scratch the surface, to capture his very essence and honor his life’s work. Our beloved friend Tom deserves nothing less.
There is a quote that is attributed to Sir Isaac Newton that I believe is appropriate today: “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”
At 6’3” Tom was indeed a giant. But it was his big personality – not his towering figure – that commanded your attention and respect. For as big as he was, he often lowered himself to pick others up and hoist them upon his shoulders.
There are many people in this church today who were lifted up by Tom Ognibene. Although, I am only one of them I can join many of you in saying that I would not be the man I am today if it were not for the man whom we are about to bury. There are more than a handful of elected officials, both past and present, who got their start with Tom Ognibene. He took us under his wing. He was our mentor. He was our friend. To some he was a like second father. To me, he was like the father I never had.
Above all, Tom loved his family. He said on countless occasions that the best decision he ever made was 48 years ago when he married Margaret Bollmann. Truer words were never spoken. Margaret probably didn’t know it at the time but marrying Tom made her eligible for sainthood. That is why Mike Michel and I say that there are two St. Margarets in Middle Village. He loved Margaret and she loved him. They were soul mates.
Tom loved his children, Guy and Eve. He was very proud of both of them. And he was ecstatic to be a grandfather.
Tom had a very large, extended family that included people in politics at City Hall, students and faculty at Christ the King High School and friends and acquaintances at the Forest Park Golf Course. At each place, he left his mark and touched the lives of many, many people. Make no mistake, Jimmy Oddo, Dennis Gallagher, I and several others got elected to public office because we were standing on Tom’s shoulders. The scholarship recipients at Christ the King High School over the past 30+ years have Tom to thank for helping them pursue their own dreams. They were standing on Tom shoulders. Bob Smith and the crew from the golf course who Tom counseled on a regular basis. They too were standing on Tom’s shoulders.
When he first ran for political office, people said he was crazy. [I can attest that being a little crazy is in fact a qualification for being a good politician.] Nevertheless, Tom was different. He wasn’t your typical politician. He was better! I dare say, he was the best! No one worked harder for their community than Tom Ognibene. No one fought harder to protect the interests of his constituents than Tom Ognibene. And no one could match the fire and passion that Tom Ognibene radiated on the floor of the City Council.
It is not easy being in public life. There are many sacrifices that politicians make to serve their communities. It is a tremendous strain on the family. And so I want to be the first, but certainly not the last, to say thank you to Margaret, Guy and Eve for sharing your husband and father with the rest of us. We loved him dearly and will never forget all the good that he did in his life.
This is, at times, a thankless job. When you take away the bells and whistles, you quickly realize that you’re only as good as your last favor. And when you’re no longer in office, far too many people forget how hard you worked and all the good you did. Unfortunately, that’s how this business works. Tom used to repeat the famous line from the Godfather, “this is the business we’ve chosen.” Tom also liked another line from The Godfather, “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” Whether it was cannolis, bananas, or Snickers bars, Tom ate them in one bite. One of the most dangerous places to be was between Tom and a plate of food.
Tom didn’t sacrifice years of his life in vain. He took what he learned, he shared it with those he loved and he carried out the remainder of his life with grace and dignity.
How honorable. How rare.
I am reminded of the simile of light from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
For many of us, Tom was our light, our strength and our hope. He is not dead. He is alive in our hearts. And his spirit lives on in each and every one of us. The Happy Warrior that fought the good fight, that brought so much joy and laughter to our lives, he now basks in the light of God’s presence…
When the good Lord created him, He broke the mold. I think it’s safe to say that there will never be another Tom Ognibene. And when He called him home several days ago, Tom laid down the heavy burden of his pain and suffering and picked up the crown because his true reward was waiting for him in heaven.
In just a few moments, we will take Tom to his final resting place at Calverton National Cemetery where he will be buried the way he lived, as a hero. I can assure you that if there is a pantheon of great politicians in heaven that is where you will find Tom Ognibene. That’s where he belongs. That’s where he deserves to be.
Eternal rest grant unto him oh Lord, and let the perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of your faithfully departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.