They came from both sides of the aisle today to say goodbye to a man who changed New Jersey.
Democrats and Republicans. Former governors and political leaders. Family and friends. And people who never met him.
Gov. Brendan T. Byrne was being remembered today in a memorial service at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, not far from where he had made his home in the years after retiring from office.
An honor guard of State Troopers stood at attention flanking the front entrance of the theater, while hundreds made their way inside pay pay their respects.
Byrne died last Thursday at the age of 93.
Gov. Chris Christie, who said last week he considered Byrne a mentor and friend, was expected to give the eulogy.
The service began with the dirge of a State Police piper, and then the playing of taps by a military honor guard, who presented an American flag to the governor's widow.
Byrne, who joined the Army Air Corp and became a B-17 navigator with the 414th Bomb Squadron of the 15th Air Force during World War II, flew 51 missions from Italy and earned the Distinguished Flying Medal and four Air Medals.
Much of the memorial was an homage to the self-deprecating humor Byrne was known for, as speakers from Christie to Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, recalled his jokes and well-known one-liners.
"He was the only one of my predecessors who would wander into my office unannounced," Christie recalled. He would come out to greet Byrne and said invariably he would find him waiting in the outer office, staring at his own portrait.
"I want to make sure you haven't moved it," he said Byrne would tell him.
But Christie said Byrne also shared advice, criticism and his thoughts, always making them in private.
Calling him "extraordinarily gracious and generous," Christie said "his life was a great joy. Not only to his family but to anybody who had the great privilege of spending some time with him."
Tobin called Byrne "disarming," and honest.
"New Jersey loved him. Most of the time," he said. "New Jersey loved him for his authenticity and honesty."
And former Gov. Thomas Kean talked of a life-long friendship he had with the governor, long after both were out of office.
Kean fondly recalled their arguments "that lasted for 40 years," but were always civil. Quoting Sophocles, who said, "one must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been," Kean said he celebrated the life of Byrne.
"We miss you. All of us in this auditorium. All of us in the state," he said.
Byrne's son, Tom, said his father would have wanted the day to be one of celebration, not mourning. He also retold many of his father's favorite jokes, but also said Brendan Byrne's career had been a beacon of hope.
"He wanted every kid to have that hope that comes from having a good education. He expressed hopes for New Jersey's urban areas," said Tom Byrne, adding that the governor had done his best to make sure the state preserved its environmental heritage of the Pine Barrens.
"He advanced the hope that politics could be good and decent," he said.
Byrne also made final reference to the joke his father always told on the dinner circuit, when the governor, referencing stories of how the old Hudson County Democratic machine in decades past would vote the names of the dead. He always got a laugh as he declared a desire to be buried in Hudson County so that he might "remain active in politics."
As for where Byrne actually will be buried, his son said he would be cremated as per his final wishes, but allowed that some of those ashes may find their way to Hudson County, as well as the Pine Barrens.
"He'll remain active in politics as long as people want a role model," said Byrne.