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The city’s top leaders, southeast Queens activists and hundreds of residents who were touched by City Councilman Thomas White’s years of work gathered at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral last Thursday for a final goodbye.
The cathedral was packed for the funeral service and many of the mourners spoke highly of his decades of service both in and out of City Hall.
In addition to serving as the Democratic leader for District 28, which includes Jamaica, Rochdale Village, Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park, White, 71, worked to help residents who, like himself, fought drug problems through his drug rehab program J-Cap, for more than 40 years.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was joined by most of the Council members, city Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, the Rev. Al Sharpton and other top political figures, said the councilman never forgot his roots when serving in office.
“For Tom, doing it ‘my way’ meant giving second chances,” he said.
White died of cancer Aug. 27. He is survived by his 89-year-old mother Marie White, ex-wife Marie, children Bryan D. White and Lucile Precious Middleton and two grandsons. Family members did not speak at the service, but Middleton performed a gospel song in honor of her father.
White began his service in the community in 1968, when he established a storefront drop-in center for drug information and prevention across from Queens Hospital Center. He continued to work to provide assistance to substance abuse victims and in 1977 helped to establish J-Cap, for which he served as executive director up until his death.
State Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica), who worked at J-Cap, said the organization was at the top of his priorities and the topic of their last conversation days before his death.
“Tom was not really in his heart a politician. He was a person. He cared about people,” she said.
Diane Gonzalez, a director of J-Cap, said White personally helped hundreds of patients, including her. Apart from helping them kick their habits, Gonzalez said White made sure J-Cap’s clients re-entered society as better people.
“That’s all he cared about, everyone coming through that door and changing their lives,” she said.
In 1991, he was elected to the Council and decided to take his vision to the government level. Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) worked with White during his tenure and remembered how he never took no for an answer when it came to getting the resources and services that his constituents needed.
“His focus was always 100 percent on the communities he loved,” she said. “He knew exactly what he needed, block by block.”
State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) said White inspired a new generation of leaders in the area with his determination and ability to inspire others into service.
“When you see the caliber of people in this room ... it tells you Tom had impacted many people’s lives,” he said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4546.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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