Loved ones, friends and fellow legislators paused Sat. to memorialize former Palmer Rep. Carl Gatto as a family man first, and a state lawmaker second.
Gatto, 74, died April 10 of kidney failure in a Seattle Hospital after a long prostate cancer battle. He left behind a wife and four grown children.
Among those who attended the Lazy Mountain Bible Church service was Gov. Sean Parnell. Gatto's family seemed touched as Parnell memorialized the late lawmaker as a man with integrity.
"In a sometimes raw, ego driven, political atmosphere Carl brought decency and selflessness to the table," Parnell said. "He never forgot who he served while he was in Juneau: all of you and never himself."
Gatto's Pastor and friend, the Rev. Larry Kroon, remembered Gatto as courageous and selfless to the end. Kroon told attendees how he and Gatto got together for lunch at a restaurant, when Gatto looked as though the disease he was battling was in its final stages.
"All he could talk about was all that he still intended to do. He never lost his optimism, even in the face of cancer," Kroon said.
There were also moments filled with laughter.
Rep. Bill Stoltz, R-Chugiak, remembered visiting Gatto in the hospital, asking his friend for legislative guidance.
"Bill, I'm sure you'll know to do what's right." Stoltz remembered Gatto saying. "I had to fund just about everything for Palmer!" The crowd of more than a hundred people chuckled over Gatto's good-natured manipulation of his fellow lawmaker.
Of all the words spoken at the service, none would have meant more to Gatto than those uttered by his family.
Gatto's daughter Samantha remembered how her father shamelessly outbid a 10-year-old girl at an auction for a teddy bear she wanted. Then, Samantha added wryly, "I was 20," as the audience laughed.
Her brother, Kip, had people smiling as he recalled knocking on the governor's mansion door while he visited his father in Juneau.
"Dad said, let's knock on the door and see if they're home. And I said, do you do that with the governor. Do you just walk up and knock on the door?"
It turns out the governor at the time, Sarah Palin, was not home.
Though their father's memory brought them great joy, Gatto's children were burdened by immense grief as well.
"Dear dad, I am broken. Every day without you feels like a hundred years," Samantha Gatto tearfully said with a cracked voice.
Gatto was born in New York City in 1938. However, the firefighter, described by his son as an Alaskan at heart, never left the the state after a 1960s move.
In the last days of his life, he served his constituency right to the end.
Gatto was rushed suddenly from his Juneau office April 6, and flown to Seattle. He hung on through four painful days of emergency chemotherapy to get his affairs in order and see his family one last time.
Gov. Sean Parnell appointed Shelley Huhges last week to fill the remainder of Gatto's term, which expires at the end of this year.
Email Dan Fiorucci.