Perhaps the best way to describe people's feelings about state Sen. Thomas Morahan, who died Monday after a six-month battle with leukemia, is that he was the kind of man you would take time out of a vacation to talk highly about.
That's what Scott Milich did Tuesday, returning a phone call despite being on vacation in Aruba, to say how saddened he was by the loss of Morahan, 78, a New City Republican who represented Rockland and parts of Orange County in the Senate for a decade.
"He was just a very helpful man, and a real ally for of Rockland County citizens," said Milich, a board member of the Downtown New City Corp.
Milich said he's known Morahan for more than 20 years –"just through the community" – and always admired how Morahan gave back to the residents of Rockland and worked with numerous organizations. A few months ago, there was a blood drive for Morahan, and Milich said he saw that as an opening to try and flip the generosity.
"As soon as I saw that, I sent out e-mails to everyone in my contacts list trying to get people to go," he said. "I just saw that as my opportunity to try and give back to this man who had given so much to other people."
Before taking his seat in the Senate, Morahan was a Rockland County Legislature member and had been a member of the state Assembly. He had worked for New York Telephone and later at Orange and Rockland Utilities.
At the county Legislature, Chairwoman Harriet Cornell, D-West Nyack, remembered many years working together with Morahan.
"We have lost a great ally who was motivated by the needs of the people of Rockland and Orange Counties and New York State," said Cornell. "Senator Morahan leaves a legacy of remarkable achievement on both the state and local levels. I was privileged to work with him in the county Legislature and during the many years he served on the state Legislature."
Cornell said Morahan was an approachable and beloved public figure, frank and outspoken in his views, precise and determined in his actions on all matters that concerned the well-being of his constituency.
"His family was the center of his life and the thoughts and prayers of all who knew him are with his family in the coming days and weeks," Cornell said. "Rockland has lost a loyal friend and a strong leader."
One organization that Morahan worked with often was Jawonio in New City.
"We're all saddened by [his death]," Jawonio CEO Jill Warner said. "Senator Morahan was a great human being, as well as an advocate for the more vulnerable people of this society."
One area where Morahan made a big impact on Jawonio was with its program dealing with early intervention, which provides services for children up to age 3 with developmental delays or disabilities.
"Without Tom, we probably wouldn't have an early intervention program," Warner said, adding Morahan helped raise funds for the program, which has become a staple of Jawonio.
When the early intervention services building at Jawonio underwent some renovations, Warner said she approached Morahan back in February to see if they could dedicate the building to him. After agreeing, the ceremony was supposed to be in late April, but they had to cancel it due to his illness.
Another time Warner fondly remembers relating to Morahan was when he was first appointed to the Senate's Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee. He asked Jawonio to bring in experts in various fields and hold a conversation with them so he could learn about key issues.
"It was a very Tom Morahan-ish thing to do," she said.
But it wasn't just his dedication to helping out those with mental health or developmental disabilities that Warner remembers.
"He's one of a kind, and he goes across party lines," she said. "He was for the people. He does the people's work. It didn't matter if those people were Republican or Democrat. We need more people like him."
Diana Hess, Jawonio's chief communications officer, not only worked with Morahan through at Jawonio, but also at Orange and Rockland Utilties.
"I was about 29-years-old and had five men like twice my age reporting to me," she said. "One day he came up to me and said, 'I work for the company and not for you.' I was almost in tears, but he was playing around. He had a great sense of humor, and after almost bringing me to tears, we shared a good laugh about it."
But Hess knew Morhan long before working at O&R together. Hess' father used to be the president of the West Nyack Republican Club, so she remembers Morahan because he was "always the big Republican honcho around Rockland."
Later, Hess worked for former Assemblyman Robert Connor, who beat out Morahan in one election but then lost to him in another.
"We used to joke about that too," Hess said.
While Hess said she'll remember Morahan for all he did for Jawonio, she also will remember Morahan the man, about how he always used to ask how her family and her children were doing.
"He had a great sense of humor [and] always told it like it was," she said. "I asked him for advice in my personal life. I'm going to miss him a lot."
Warner and Milich both said they'll miss Morahan, as well, and Warner hopes Morahan's legacy lives on through the actions of others.
"I hope the people that he touched during his years in the Senate and elsewhere follow his example and reach across party lines to each other to help the people," she said.
A funeral Mass for Morahan is set for 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Augustine's Church in New City, followed by burial in St. Anthony's Cemetery, Nanuet. Calling hours are Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. and Thursday and Friday from 2 - 4 p.m. and 7 - 9 p.m. at Michael J. Higgins Funeral Home, 321 S. Main St., New City.
Morahan, popular among both Republicans and Democrats in Rockland, had decided not to seek re-election because of his illness. Political leaders said that because of the timing of Morahan's death, there probably is not enough time to hold a special election and that his seat will likely remain vacant until the November election.
Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, a Republican, and Clarkstown Town Clerk David Carlucci, a New City Democrat, are campaigning to be Morahan's successor.