Tributes to the late Rudolph "Rudy" Clay poured in Tuesday at the announcement of his death at age 77.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., who also is chairman of Lake County's Democratic party, said, "The passing of Rudy Clay brings an end to an era. Rudy was one of the classiest gentlemen I have ever had the pleasure to know. He was a trailblazer for civil rights and in Indiana and Lake County politics. Rudy cared deeply about the city of Gary and was committed to making it a better city for its residents.
"It may have been perceived that Rudy and I were rivals, but in reality we were great friends. He was always available to give advice to me as mayor and Lake County Democratic chairman. My thoughts and prayers go out to Christine and Rudy Jr. Rudy will be missed by all who knew him."
East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland said he never heard Clay use profanity and never saw him frown. He said Clay always was willing to share his knowledge of the political world.
“With me coming in as a newly elected mayor through a caucus process, I was greener than green,” Copeland recalled. “To be able to pick up the phone and talk to someone with that vast amount of knowledge and experience, it was immeasurable.”
Former East Chicago Mayor Robert Pastrick, now 85, said, "My heart goes out to Christine and his family. He had a good life. He was very dedicated to the Democratic Party and all the places he served downstate and locally in county office and as mayor. That speaks well for him. He had to have done some things right in order for people to continually put him back in office. He and I got along real well. I thought very highly of him."
U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-South Bend, said, "I am saddened to learn of the passing of my friend, the former mayor of Gary, Rudy Clay. Mayor Clay was a tireless leader for Gary and all of Northwest Indiana, representing his community at the county, state, and citywide level. The thoughts and prayers of my family are with Mayor Clay’s family and friends. He will be missed.”
Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Schererville, said he met Clay in 1958 when the two were working together as salesmen at a Prudential insurance office in Gary. Their business relationship continued into politics as both men sought and won various political offices.
“He had so much respect for my district,” said Scheub, whose commissioner’s district encompasses south Lake County. “If something happened in my district, he always was there to back me up. I really respected him for that.”
Lake County Auditor Peggy Katona, who knew Rudy for more than 30 years, said Tuesday, “It’s a sad day for Lake County because Rudy Clay was a people person. He always had a smile and hug for everyone. He dedicated his life to the (Democratic) Party and to the people of Lake County. He’ll be missed.”
State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said Clay was a “survivalist” and always landed on his feet.
“Because of his stature, it’s just hard to conceive of Rudy Clay leaving here,” Brown said. “He was a fixture in Lake County politics forever. It’s sad news to hear that he has left us. I wish his family well and, hopefully, they will be able to continue to enjoy life on this earth without Rudy.”
Brown said he and Clay, who knew each other for more than 40 years, did not always agree. But Brown said Clay always gave everything 100 percent.
“We have lost someone that truly, truly loved Lake County and Gary, Ind.,” Brown said. “He gave it his all.”
Former Lake County Commissioner Fran DuPey said Clay, whom she’s known for 28 years, was “a wonderful person.”
She said Clay was the first one to call when her husband was ill. He visited them in the hospital and came by the house, DuPey said.
“People that didn’t have the opportunity to know him personally as a human being probably really missed something in their life,” she said. “He was very, very passionate and always cared about people.”
Even during difficult times, Clay had a positive outlook on the city, Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor said. "He relished being the mayor of Gary," Snedecor said.
When issues developed, Clay looked at how they affected the region. He also encouraged local mayors and elected officials to collaborate to improve Northwest Indiana. "I enjoyed the opportunity to serve as a neighboring mayor," Snedecor said
While in office, Clay tried to serve the residents of Gary and the region to the best of his abilities, Snedecor said. "He'll be sadly missed," he said.
Merrillville Town Council President Carol Miano said Clay was a "stylish and classy gentleman" with a "heart of gold. I will always remember him that way," Miano said.
Miano's relationship with Clay started in 2006, when she became chairwoman of the Merrillville/Ross Township Democratic Precinct Organization. "He tried his best in what he did," Miano said.
When Merrillville Town Councilman Richard Hardaway first decided to seek office several years ago, he met with Clay for advice. "He was a great warrior, and he was an excellent politician," Hardaway said.
Clay worked hard to improve the area in his various roles in state, county and local government, he said. "Northwest Indiana suffers a great loss with his death," Hardaway said.
Times staff writers Marisa Kwiatkowski, Chas Reilly and Marc Chase contributed to this report.