FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 10, 2008
MAYOR BLOOMBERG DELIVERS EULOGY AT FUNERAL SERVICE FOR TERENCE D. TOLBERT
Renames School Campus at I.S. 195 in Harlem the Terence D. Tolbert Education Complex
The following is Mayor Bloomberg’s eulogy as delivered:
"Freida, Carolyn, and all the family, thank you for the opportunity to say a few words. You know, Terence could always fill a room anywhere, anytime and he's done it again here, one last time. This is a crowd that he would have loved: his family, his friends, co-workers, a distinguished group of elected officials, dignitaries a mile long from the City, State, and Federal government. What some of you may not know is that you really do have a lot in common: Terence would have remembered your birthday. He knew everybody's birthday even when your family didn't know your birthday.
"I often talk about New York as a city of opportunity, a place where anyone who works hard and catches a little luck can follow their dream and Terence really did live that story. He's a kid who grew up in public housing, earned a spot at Bronx Science - I never would have - worked his way through college and climbed his way up the political ladder, helping a few of us in this church win elections, pass laws and try to make the world a better place. In his last campaign, this son of Harlem capped an incredible life journey: He delivered a swing state that helped elect the first African-American President of the United States. But you've got to believe that he is there looking down and has a smile on his face.
"When we think about Terence's work on that campaign and what it means
for our country, it's worth remembering a question that Langston Hughes asked
less than 60 years ago in a poem entitled 'Harlem'. He said, 'What happens to a
dream deferred? Does it explode?' Well, on Tuesday night in Harlem, when the
votes return came in - returns came in, it exploded, but not with the rioting
that Hughes had worried about but with rejoicing and Terence helped to make it
"Terence loved Harlem with all his heart but the truth is he was equally comfortable in every community in our city. He may have been the only guy from Harlem who could tell you where to get the best rugelach in Borough Park. In 2005, Terence wasn't just a senior strategist on my re-election campaign, he was of course our coordinator of Jewish outreach. If you've never seen him dance the hora, we've got pictures.
"Terence, you won't be surprised, was also our Albanian coordinator. He had an open invitation to the best Lunar New Year parties in Chinatown and he could impress the Russians in Brighton Beach with stories about the prestigious Soviet summer camp that he attended as part of a peace exchange. The story goes that while he was there, Leonid Brezhnev apparently paid a visit and Terence got into a debate with him - no surprise there - over the future of communism. Yeah, well guess who turned out to be right on that one.
"The Irish - we can't forget the Irish, this is New York - they also loved Terence and there's an Irish step dancing troupe at a school in the Bronx called the Celtic Dreams. And since this is New York, the kids are Irish, Jewish, black and Latino and thanks to Terence last year they traveled to Ireland to perform for the Irish President. These kids really did love Terence and when they got the news of his death last Monday, they decided to dedicate that night's performance to him.
"Terence was a one-man melting pot. You could bring everyone together and he could get them to work together and that was the whole premise of the 2005 campaign and so he was the perfect guy to help lead it and he was also one of the first hires I made. And during that campaign, we created a sophisticated voter database program that allowed us to micro-target our outreach. But Terence told us he wasn't too impressed with it because when he typed in his own name, the program identified him as Norwegian. Terence had a good point: he was only part Norwegian. He was also part Jewish, Albanian, Chinese, Russian, Irish - and everything else. We spent a decent amount of money on that database in 2005 and on a lot of other things. But when someone would say that the campaign spared no expense, Terence would always stand up and say in a loud voice, 'That's not true. They wouldn't pay for the omelet station I wanted.' We all knew Terence loved good food and home cooking.
"Freida, I understand that when Terence showed he was truly in love with you when he tried your fried chicken and deviled eggs. But at your wedding, the caterer cooked the meal and he insisted that his own mother make the deviled eggs. Did you ever learn how to make good deviled eggs? Terence loved to eat and it was impossible not to laugh with him. I remember visiting our Albany office not long after we had fired somebody for spending the day playing solitaire rather than working for the people of New York City. And I stopped by to see Terence, and on his desk was a chess set. I'm just glad someone had the guts to do it.
"Terence definitely had guts. He said a lot of things that no one else would say or could've gotten away with and I'm not going to repeat all of them, Reverend Taylor. But he could get away with it because everyone knew there wasn't a mean bone in his body. Terence Tolbert loved people, especially young people, and that's why his work at the Department of Education meant so much to him. It's only natural that we remember Terence's political work, but let's not forget what Terence accomplished in government.
"I'll let Assemblyman Wright handle Albany, and I apologize for not mentioning the name of every elected official here but there's just too many to mention. But in less than three years at the Department of Education, working with a lot of the people in the State Legislature and the local City Council and the citywide electeds really, he brought home some major legislative victories that will benefit public school children for decades. He helped us raise the State cap on charter schools, and a number of those charters are now here in Harlem. He helped us win record amounts of State funding to build new schools. He helped us settle the decades-old Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. He met with principals and parents, and he listened. If you had a problem, he'd try to fix it. If you needed help, he'd offer it. And if he promised you something, he'd always deliver it.
"Terence used to say that he has the best job in the world. He's a lobbyist for kids, who's also a personal mentor to many children and he was a great role model. For all that he did for the children of this city, I'm pleased to say that as of today, the school campus at I.S. 195, where Terence went to middle school, will now be called the Terence D. Tolbert Education Complex.
"That's what Terence would have wanted and I just wanted to say thank you to Dennis Walcott and Joel Klein for helping us get this done. It's a fitting honor, and I think it will allow Terence to continue inspiring students for decades to come.
"The most important young people in Terence's life were his nieces and nephews, and I met all of them this morning. High-fives for the Mayor, thank you. You meant the whole world to Uncle Terry, and he's not- he's going to continue watching you and watching out for you, but he does expect you to all be good students in school and make him very proud, so tough for you to do that but you're going to have to focus and when the going gets tough, just remember that's what Uncle Terry would have wanted.
"When you miss him, just think about that. Do your best, work the hardest you can, help others and be good friends to your family and to everyone else. That was Terence. That was your uncle: always bringing people together to laugh and work and debate, whether on a campaign, or in government, or in a church, or at Perk's or Sylvia's or Smokey Bones or Abigail's, or anyplace else.
"Freida, Carolyn, I know the sadness and heartache that we all feel. There is nothing compared to what you must be experiencing. But if there are two people strong enough to keep it going, I think it's the two of you. And remember, both of you have so many friends who want to offer whatever comfort and support we can. Terence is expecting us to help you out and that's the least we owe him. He was always there for us and when we needed help, or when we just needed someone to talk to and level with us, he always did it.
"I remember after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast, I called Terence. The scenes of suffering were upsetting to all of us and the ineptitude of the federal government was disgraceful and I was angry about it and wanted to talk to Terence because he had worked in Louisiana and because I knew I could trust him to be bluntly honest, and that's part of what made him so successful. He told you what he thought, whether you were the Chancellor or the Mayor or the Premier of the Soviet Union. He agreed to meet me that night at a restaurant in Harlem. We talked about New Orleans. We talked about what went wrong and why, and we talked about what we could do to help.
"That was always the bottom line for Terence Tolbert: How can we help? How can we help kids? How can we help principals and teachers? How can we help public housing residents? How can we help Harlem? How can we help New York City? And how can we help America? Terence did more than help - he led. He led with courage and determination, and no matter how rough things got, he led with a kindness and gentleness that touched everyone in this church and so many others.
"Terence had an attitude that we're all in this together and we may disagree on certain things, but that's not a reason not to cooperate; that's not a reason not to be civil. That's not a reason not to work together, to help everything that we love. If Terence took a side in a debate and you pushed it too far - he took your side, he'd shake his head, and with a laugh he'd say, 'I stayed with you as long as I could.' Terence stayed with us as long as he could. It wasn't long enough for us, but it was long enough for him to make a huge difference in this world, to make a huge impact on the people who were lucky enough to know him. All of us were lucky enough. Thank you, Terence and God bless."
Stu Loeser (212) 788-2958