Hundreds of people filled the Kodak Hall at Eastman Theater in Rochester Friday to pay tribute to the late Louise Slaughter. The longtime Congresswoman, who died March 16 at the age of 88, was remembered for her leadership advancing liberal causes but, as one of the speakers put it, "didn't get into politics to make a name for herself but to make a difference."
Louise Slaughter, who was born in Kentucky, was remembered by her daughter Amy as a "coal miner's daughter," who despite her humble upbringing stood up for her beliefs.
"As we all know it's hard to sum up the life of someone as big as my mother," Amy Slaughter said. "What I want people to remember is that she came from humble roots but was outspoken."
Family members and prominent politicians alike offered tributes to Slaughter, whose district was based in Rochester but, for a period in her career, included Niagara Falls and a part of Buffalo. Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, himself a highly-respected civil rights activist, was the first of four powerful Democrats to deliver remarks. He admitted "this is hard. This is tough."
"She was generous. She was friendly. She was warm," Lewis said. "She was determined and she stood up for her beliefs. Louise, I think most members know, she was strong. She was solid. And she didn't take any stuff."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and past Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted Slaughter's role as a leader in forwarding causes including women's rights. Clinton also praised Slaughter's leadership against gene-based discrimination and for science and reason.
Clinton, who credited Slaughter with inspiration when she ran successfully for U.S. Senate in 2000, also noted Slaughter was instrumental in sparking the economic redevelopment of Western New York.
"She was always up with new ideas about how to create new jobs in Buffalo and Rochester and Western New York," she said. "She saw the potential for a renaissance in American manufacturing and believed that Western New York was the perfect place for it."
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who was in attendance, agreed.
"She was very passionate about it. She was effective in bringing federal resources and attention back to Buffalo, Rochester and Niagara Falls," Brown said. "She was certainly a fighter for the community and had great passion and love for the community."
With Mayor Brown was Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who spoke of how Slaughter's humble roots and down-to-earth personality resonated with Western New Yorkers, even as someone who moved into the region from outside the state.
"It should resonate because, if you think about it, the vast majority of Americans come from humble beginnings," she said. "In order for us to be successful in reaching the American dream, we need to fight like Louise Slaughter did."
Former Niagara Falls Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti was also in the audience. She remembered Slaughter's commitment to the Cataract City's own economic development.
"She fought for what she believed was best for us," Grandinetti said. "Just the train station, just to mention a few things, what she did for Memorial Hospital, the support that she gave to our mayor. And myself, being a female elected official, she was a phone call away, no matter what I needed and no matter what question I had."
Hundreds lined up outside the theater at least two hours before the doors were opened. Among those waiting in line was Jean Crane, who worked on Slaughter's re-election campaigns. She recalled the radical shifts in borders to Slaughter's congressional district, which for a time included Niagara Falls and parts of Buffalo.
"It was decimated three times to try and weaken her ability to win the seat," Crane said. "I live in Canandaigua and part of Ontario County was part of her district the first time. Then it got gerrymandered to include Batavia and then it got strung out further to Niagara Falls in order to weaken her position and give the Republican opponent the opportunity.
But as Crane noted, Slaughter still stood.
"She always said I'm always the target but they aren't going to get me."
Next to Crane in line was Karen Freeman, who was asked about the legacy Slaughter will leave behind.
"She represents the community," she said. She fights hard for us to be able to get funding for various programs."
It was quickly noticed how Freeman still spoke of Slaughter in the present tense. She wasn't alone. Also waiting in line was Hannah Wlasowicz, a Webster resident and University at Buffalo student, who at times also spoke of her in the present. WBFO asked Wlasowicz if perhaps many in the community weren't ready to think of life without their longtime Congresswoman.
"She's been serving us for a long time and then to suddenly have her death is something that shocked all of us," she replied. "It's going to take some time but once a new representative is elected for us, I think we can start moving on past that and recognize the service she has done for us."
Slaughter was predeceased by her longtime husband, Robert, who died in 2014.
Daniel Secatore, Slaughter's grandson, admitted from the podium inside the theater that he is just one of many that were not ready to see her go. But he told the audience while they have no choice in that, they do have a choice in how they celebrate her life.
"Born in a mining town in Harlan County. First woman in her family to go to college. Went to work for a company that defined the American boom of the 20th Century, met a serviceman and fell in love. When she and Grandpa Bob first came to Rochester, they had so little that my mother as a newborn slept in a drawer," Secatore said. "And today she's being mourned by a president. That's a life."