In a personal and moving tribute to her former mentor, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren on Saturday described the late Assemblyman David Gantt as “a man of integrity and strength, who from a very young age stood up to adversity, who didn’t back down from any challenge. And who somehow made a way out of no way.”
The mayor delivered a 26-minute eulogy at the funeral for Assemblyman Gantt, who died July 1. He was 78.
Others including City Council President Loretta Scott and Rep. Joseph Morelle also offered reflections at the service, held at the Church of Love Faith Center. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the funeral was limited to family, close friends and dignitaries.
Warren said she visited Assemblyman Gantt on Father’s Day. They talked about the political battles they had shared and how this election year was like no other due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“When I said goodbye that day, I didn’t know that it would be the last time that I would see him, hear his laugh or see his smile,” the mayor said. “Now I see it was the Lord’s grace at work, putting my last memory of him becoming a father to me, on Father’s Day.”
Born Sept. 12, 1941, in the Deep South, Assemblyman Gantt attended Franklin High School, Roberts Wesleyan College and the Rochester Institute of Technology. He worked as a youth counselor for the City of Rochester, as a member of Lithographers & Photoengravers International Union Local 230 and as an administrator at the Anthony L. Jordan Health Center.
His mother, Lena Gantt, was a community activist. Warren credited her for pushing her son to run for public office.
He served nine years in the Monroe County Legislature, representing the 22nd District. In 1983, Mr. Gantt was elected to the Assembly, becoming the first—and still only— Black from Monroe County elected to state office.
Warren, who served as a legislative assistant and chief of staff in Assemblyman Gantt’s office, said he never forgot his roots.
“David was an organizer and a protector of the people until the day he took his last breath,” she said. “He worked to promote any and all organizations aimed at uplifting marginalized communities.”
Added Warren: “Like David in the Bible, he wasn’t afraid to sling some rocks at the wolves who threatened him. … I suppose that was why he would take a young girl from the west side of the city and build her up, shape her and mold her so that she would have the audacity to believe that she could become mayor of this great city. He had a way of taking the least among us (and) helping them to believe they could achieve anything that they put their mind to.”
The mayor said Assemblyman Gantt often was misunderstood and maligned by the power structure he challenged.
“While he was alive, they wouldn’t talk about any of (his) accomplishments. Instead, they would talk about his abrasiveness, his brashness and his demeanor,” she said. “Because they couldn’t control him. He was like Shirley Chisholm (the first Black woman elected to Congress)—unbought and unbossed until the day he died.
“He stayed true to his beliefs, stood up for what was right and never apologized for standing up for the downtrodden and marginalized or disenfranchised. Before there was a Black Lives Matter movement, David Gantt made it his life’s work to ensure that Black lives matter.”
In closing, Warren spoke directly to her late mentor: “I will never forget all the times you stood by me. The truth that you made me see. The joy that you brought to my life. The wrong that you made right. The dreams that you made come true. For the love you always gave, I’ll be forever grateful.”