Monthly Archives: February 2015

My Memory of Mario Cuomo

Survivors of the Shield Bill Signing 1989 Bottom row: Kathleen Murray, Sue McCormack, Mario Cuomo, and Mary Beth O'Neill

Mario Cuomo stood at the window of his offices on the 58th floor of One World Financial Center watching a tugboat stream along the Hudson toward the Statue of Liberty. Below, the financial district with its jackhammers and car horn blasts was silent, the sky was a brilliant blue and the waves held white caps.

“That one’s mine,” the governor said, pointing to the small island across from Ellis. “Governor’s Island.” I looked toward the Coast Guard base where my husband had once removed a suspicious package when he was with the bomb squad, before a device left by terrorists in Grand Central Station exploded and killed him. “I thought that was a Coast Guard Station,” I said. He smiled at me. “Guess I can’t fool a New Yorker.” He reached for my hand. “Kathleen Murray,” I said. His hand was warm and he held mine for a moment.

We were three New York City police widows in his office today to meet with the governor of the State of New York to sign the COPS Agenda into law.  We had been there on a freezing cold day in February a year before, when sitting across from him, we had given him our wish list, the things that would improve our lives and those of our children: the right to remarry without losing our pensions, scholarships for ourselves and our offspring, grief counseling training so we could console a new widow. We were founders of Survivors of the Shield, Kathleen Murray, Mary Beth O’Neill, and Susan McCormack, three women who had succeeded in changing the path of those unfortunate enough to lose their spouses in the line of duty. We shared the willingness to do something revolutionary, turn pain into action, make the world better in the wake of violence.

The view was greener this spring day, and the conference room smelled of rich coffee and baked goods. I watched the wind catch the sail of a cutter as it bounced on the choppy waters. “Hey Murray.” The governor came up beside me. “What do you do when you’re not pushing for legislation?”

“Professor of English.”

His heavy dark eyebrows ticked up a notch. “Shakespeare?”

“I’m teaching Macbeth this semester,” I said.

“I count myself a Shakespeare aficionado.” He squinted and thought for a moment. “How about a Shakespeare challenge?” The cutter blew along the whitecaps, its sails majestic against the skyline of New Jersey. I backed away from the window to face him. “I accept your challenge, Governor.”

“Excellent,” he said. “The subject is Macbeth. Five questions each. The winner gets a Montblanc pen, courtesy of this office,” and just as I was saying, “You’re on-” the press arrived, a flurry of cameras and microphones. And the office’s press secretary rounded us up in an organized line: four senators, three police widows, and the governor, at his desk to sign our bill.

“Governor Cuomo wants to have a literary contest with me,” I whispered to Mary Beth, while the flashbulbs went off. I felt a surge of joy. “The bill includes every New York State police and fire department,” the governor told the press, “And it has all come about as a result of the hard work of Kathleen Murray, Mary Beth O’Neill, and Susan McCormack.”

Later, we sat across from each other in the dining room, the governor and I, our plates piled high. “Okay Murray,” Governor Cuomo said, when we were settled. “What did Lady Macbeth say when she thinks she sees blood on her hands?”

I smiled. The easy ones first. “Out damned spot.”

We were a table of eight, including Matilda Cuomo, the first lady, who had come to lend her support to police widows, Mary Beth, Susan, and I, and senators and commissioners. Everyone at the table turned to listen as the Governor announced, “Correct! One for you.”

I would begin with an easy one as well. “What do the weird sisters predict?”

The governor waited a second. “That Macbeth would become thane of Cawdor.”

“How does Lady Macbeth comfort Macbeth when he begins to hallucinate?” he asked as I dug into my plate of pasta salad.

“She comforts him by putting him to bed.”

“Yes.” We were even. I leaned forward and asked my last question. “Why is it Banquo and not Duncan who haunts Macbeth?”

The governor squeezed his bushy eyebrows together as he thought over the question. “Because Macbeth is more troubled over murdering a king than a thane.” I popped a grape in my mouth and waited to see if he was going to revise his answer before I said, “Banquo was a greater threat because he heard the witches’ prophesy and knew of Macbeth’s ambition to become king.”

I couldn’t help but smile at the victory as the governor took from his pocket a box containing a black pen with the white star on top.

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