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Who's Who Of City's High Society Bids Farewell To "Great Lady"

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Nearly a thousand people packed St. Thomas Church in Midtown Friday to pay tribute to one of the city's foremost philanthropists, Brooke Astor, who dedicated her life to helping others.

Among those who attended the ceremony were Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins, actor/comedian Whoopi Goldberg, fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, and members of New York's high society.

Astor was remembered as one of the city's great philanthropists, having donated almost $200 million of her inherited fortune to city charities and organizations.

Astor died of pneumonia on Monday at her upstate home at the age of 105.

“She was incredibly kind to us, she was a wonderful friend, generous kind and fun,” said a friend of Astor, Rosamond Bernier.

Cameras were not permitted inside the church, but those who attended said it was a fitting ceremony.

“Beautiful, as it should be. Only Brooke could have pulled this off. She planned it and it went very well,” said a friend of Astor, Norma Dana.

Bloomberg and David Rockefeller delivered tributes as did Astor's son, who is locked in a bitter battle over her estate, but whose speech left mourners with an emotional tug.

“It was poignant when he said, ÎNew York has lost a great woman, but I have lost my mother.’ Oh my God. That touched everybody. Everybody. You heard a gasp,” said Eliot Jordan, a friend of Astor’s.

But Astor's last years were not without controversy, after one of her grandsons filed a petition accusing his father, Anthony Marshall, of forcing Astor to live in squalor while trying profiting from her fortune.

Her guardians say she was not mentally competent when she signed amendments to her will. They are asking a judge to name them co-administrators of her will, which left about half of Astor's estate to her son.

Outside, crowds of people she never knew but whose lives she touched, came to honor a woman who gave so much of herself and her fortune.

“I am honoring her because she was a great, great woman. She had everything. A lot of people have everything like that and didn't do what she did,” said one New Yorker.

“She was a big philanthropist she was a great lady. She was the lady of Manhattan,” added another.

“Paid my respects because she was a great lady and did so much for the art community and the poor of New York,” added another.

As if in sympathy, when the doors of the church opened, so did the skies. But it was the shower of applause on the streets below that served as a final thank you for a life well lived.

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