Monday was a cold, gray, typical January day in Aurora.
But according to Carrie Anne Wittenberg, that would not have prevented the man she called a “cherished friend,” former Mayor Thomas Weisner, from using one of his standard speech openers.
“I will open as he always did — ‘Welcome to Aurora, where the sun is always shining,’” she said.
Wittenberg, who went by Carrie Anne Ergo when she was Weisner’s chief management officer at Aurora City Hall, eulogized her former boss as accomplished, inspiring and devoted to his family and his city.
She spoke during a memorial service Monday at the Paramount Theatre for Weisner, who died Dec. 28 at age 69 from complications of cancer. Weisner was mayor for almost 12 years between 2005 and 2016.
“What appears in print is only a small fraction of the initiatives Tom championed,” Wittenberg said. “He didn’t run for mayor as a stepping stone, he ran for mayor because he wanted to make Aurora better.”
Wittenberg, along with people who filled half the stage at the Paramount, told stories of Weisner as a mayor, but also as a husband, father and friend.
Wittenberg said she remembered Weisner telling her once that his wife, Marilyn, “is the strong one — she’s always been the strong one.”
Lynette Olexa, of Hope Wall School in Aurora, remembered the mayor was “Thad’s dad,” because she was the teacher for Weisner’s son Thaddeus.
She said she has been talking with former students and parents, who told her that “Tom is now with Thad.”
Two of Weisner’s first cousins, Joy Trimble and Melinda Kroning, painted him as a man who also cared about his extended family too.
Trimble remembered her cousin spending his own money to buy a baseball mitt for her younger sister for her first communion — “much to the chagrin of his and my parents.”
But he knew she liked baseball, and he even taught her how to play, Trimble said.
“Tom cared deeply for all of his cousins; he kept in touch with all of us,” she said.
Kroning said her cousin “lived a wonderful life and left an impression on many of us.”
“He loved his extended family,” she said. “It was very important to him.”
Family members and friends also spoke of Weisner as a big Chicago Cubs fan, a great cook who loved to cook outside — a “grillmaster” — and as a very good writer.
To accent the latter, Jim Corti, the Paramount’s artistic director, read the audience one of Weisner’s funny columns about the difference between men and women, and their cars and purses. He pointed out that Tom and Marilyn were the first subscribers to the Paramount’s Broadway Series, which now has one of the largest subscription bases of any theater series in the country.
The Rev. Gary McCann, of New England Congregational Church, said Weisner “taught us to laugh at our foibles” and also worked to bring people on the outside “into the mainstream.”
Lulu Blacksmith, of Waubonsee Community College, pointed out that Weisner helped strengthen the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and gave Hispanics a bigger voice in town than they had ever had.
Wittenberg said she always remembered the way Weisner would finish his annual State of the City addresses, saying “each of you in this room has the power to shape Aurora.”
“You have given us what we need to move forward,” McCann said.