By Chris Engelhardt
More than 150 people attended the funeral Monday of Walter McCaffrey, a former city councilman who friends and officials described as a brilliant, warm and witty man dedicated to his community.
Family and friends said McCaffrey, who was 64, died July 10 following a brief illness. McCaffrey had been suffering from complications after a car accident several weeks ago, according to Liz Goff, a friend for many years.
McCaffrey is survived by his wife, Janice, who he was separated from. He had no children.
His funeral was held at St. Sebastian Roman Catholic Church in Woodside and drew a large crowd of mourners, including Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) and Community Board 2 Chairman Joseph Conley. Two white horses hooked up to a carriage carried McCaffrey’s coffin to the funeral.
McCaffrey was born and raised by his parents, Walter and Marie, who were Irish immigrants, in Woodside, where he lived until his death. He was a graduate of Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School in East Elmhurst and went on to attend Iona College.
Crowley said at the funeral mass that he was humbled to be able to speak at his friend’s funeral.
“Walter was a true son of Woodside, but he was also a true son of Sunnyside,” he said. “He was clever, and he thought outside the box. He was passionate about the communities that he represented.”
McCaffrey was first elected to the Council in 1985 and represented Woodside, Sunnyside and Long Island City in the 26th District for 16 years. He lost his seat to term limits in 2001. He wrote landmark legislation requiring security cameras at ATMs and restricting ATM surcharge fees, and was the lead sponsor of legislation banning or restricting adult establishments from middle-class neighborhoods and school areas.
He also helped establish the first homeless shelter for war veterans and the city’s first police suicide prevention program, colleagues said. McCaffrey supported many community services, including Woodside on the Move and the Sunnyside Community Services Center.
“When he rose to speak at the City Council, people listened,” Monsignor D. Joseph Finnerty said. “His words were always caring, sensitive, passionate, inspiring and they came from his heart.”
McCaffrey previously served as the Council’s chairman of the Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee, and served on the Land Use, Finance, Public Safety and Transportation committees. Before joining the Council, he was chairman of CB 2 and chief of staff to Manhattan Borough President Andrew Stein and the late Congressman Thomas Manton.”
After the mass, many who attended the church service, including Van Bramer, who knew McCaffrey for nearly 20 years, said his memory would live on for years to come.
“Walter knew the district and the people incredibly well,” he said. “I appreciated his wisdom. It’s sad he died so young, but he was really a legendary figure in our community.”
Reach reporter Chris Engelhardt by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.