National political figures come to Rochester to eulogize Rep. Louise Slaughter
ROCHESTER — U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter could fiercely debate legislative opponents on the House floor, then sing harmony with them for charity, use her scientist's mind to argue for human rights and sweeten a discussion with homemade rhubarb pie, Washington colleagues recalled Friday at her funeral.
"Even her opponents couldn't help liking her and respecting her," Hillary Clinton said inside a Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre auditorium filled with family, constituents from her western New York district and two planeloads of congressional colleagues and staff.
Slaughter, a Kentucky coal miner's daughter who never lost her lilting Southern accent, died March 16 following a fall in her Washington home. She was 88 and had represented her district for 31 years.
The line to get into Kodak Hall at the Eastman Theater stretched around the corner, as more than 1,000 people came to honor Slaughter. Slaughter's ashes were carried into Kodak Hall and placed in the middle of the stage. A folded flag resting in front of the urn was flying at the U.S. Capitol building the day she died.
Clinton said Slaughter, a fellow Democrat, took her under her wing when the former first lady was elected to represent New York in the Senate in 2000. Slaughter had done the same for many other women in Washington, said Clinton, who attended with her husband, former President Bill Clinton. She said Slaughter found inspiration in the region's history as a cradle of women's rights.
"Louise never forgot she stood on the shoulders of brave trailblazers and history makers. She picked up their torch. She carried it proudly throughout her career," Hillary Clinton said.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, of Alabama, recalled meeting Slaughter during their freshmen orientation after being elected to the U.S. House the same year. Slaughter, he said, later invited him to Rochester, where she introduced him to two nuns who had taken care of injured civil rights protesters in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.
"They cried. They hugged me. I cried, and Louise cried," the civil rights icon said. "That moment demonstrated to me the true nature of Louise. She was a beautiful, unbelievably gifted, loving sister."
With a degree in microbiology, Slaughter championed a 2008 law intended to protect people with genetic predispositions to health conditions from facing discrimination from their employers or health insurance companies. She also helped write the Violence Against Women Act and was the chief force behind a 2012 law to ban insider stock trading based on congressional knowledge.
Slaughter was the first woman to chair the powerful House Rules Committee, leading it from 2007 through 2010, and was her party's top member on the panel when she died.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called Slaughter "a perfect balance of grit and grace" with whom there was little point in arguing.
"Louise shortened always the time and distance between what was inevitable to her and inconceivable to others," Pelosi said.
Lauren Secatore, Slaughter's granddaughter, reminded the crowd how to carry on her grandmother's legacy.
"We can live a life of purpose, we can speak truth to power, can envision a better world and use political will to get us there," Secatore said. "That's why tomorrow morning I have a 5 a.m. flight to D.C. to march in honor of a former student who I lost to gun violence. I owe that to my student. And I owe it to her."
Grandson Daniel Secatore reflected, "When she and grampa Bob first came to Rochester they had so little my mother as a newborn slept in a drawer. And today she's being mourned by presidents. That's a life."
Slaughter was born Dorothy Louise McIntosh on Aug. 14, 1929, in Appalachian coal country. She married Ohio native Robert "Bob" Slaughter in 1957 and moved to the Rochester area for her husband's job. Bob Slaughter died in 2014 at age 82. The Slaughters are survived by three daughters, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered that flags on state government buildings fly at half-staff in Slaughter's honor Friday. Cuomo will set the date for a special election to fill the remainder of Slaughter's term, which expires Dec. 31.
Daily Messenger news partner News 10NBC contributed to this report.