J. Whyatt Mondesire was known for affect - a Stetson hat topping a fiery temper - and employed for effect - drawing attention to civil rights issues and the many politicians he supported and opposed.
Two generations of Philadelphia leaders praised Mondesire on Wednesday, on what would have been his 66th birthday, using his life to challenge young people to carry on his work.
Mondesire, a former leader of the NAACP in Philadelphia who died Oct. 4, was described as a fierce foe who could grow to be a close friend.
A crowd of hundreds at Bright Hope Baptist Church chuckled through the many recounted confrontations with him.
City Councilwoman Marian Tasco recalled meeting Mondesire when he was a reporter for The Inquirer in the 1970s and she worked for the Urban Affairs Council.
"There was a lot of strife in the city," Tasco said. "I wanted Jerry to take our side. But Jerry reported it like it was."
They clashed at times but then joined forces and became friends and they worked for William H. Gray 3d's campaign for the U.S. House.
Ed Rendell was preparing to run for district attorney when he met Mondesire, who later worked for Gray in Congress. Rendell, who went on to be mayor and then governor, said he wasn't sure what to make of Mondesire at first.
"I wasn't sure Jerry cared about the end result as much as he cared about the day-to-day power," Rendell said, explaining how his view changed when Mondesire took over a once powerful chapter of the NAACP that had lost its clout in the city. "And then I saw this smooth operator, this tremendous politician, turn it into something special again."
Mayor Nutter said Mondesire could be "brutally honest" and tough to deal with, but he appreciated how Mondesire was transparent in his goals.
"Yes, he could get right up in your grill, as we say," he said. "Jerry was very straightforward. You never had to wonder what he wanted, what it was about, what the issue was, because he would tell you."
Nutter added Mondesire's name to a lengthy list of past African American leaders in the city and asked "the young folks in the house" who would come next.
"We need more leaders. We need folks to step up," Nutter said. "They did their work. Your time is here. Don't miss out."
U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the city's Democratic Party, said he knew Mondesire for more than three decades. They were foes for the first half and friends after that.
"He was always a fighter, a fighter for everyone," Brady said. "Not just for African Americans. For anyone who needed help, Jerry was there."
Mondesire, who published the Philadelphia Sunday Sun, faced public and private struggles in the last years of his life.
A dispute among Mondesire and three NAACP board members about the local organization's finances prompted the national leadership to suspend them all in 2014.
He was waiting for a kidney transplant and receiving dialysis at Chestnut Hill Hospital when he suffered a brain aneurysm that led to his death.
Mondesire was eulogized by the Rev. William B. Moore, senior pastor at the Tenth Memorial Baptist Church. Moore drew laughs when he described Mondesire's using "colorful language" against many opponents "like a jab, going into a fighter's body."
Nobody got a pass, Moore said, as Mondesire "fought for the least, the less, the locked-out" across Philadelphia.
"He fought a good fight," Moore said. "He did not win every round. But he fought a good fight."