The marble rotunda of Newark City Hall echoed with memories as the late Newark Mayor Ken Gibson lied in state, the center of the room one last time. 

Portraits of Gibson, who died last Friday at the age of 86, were ringed by purple-and-black bunting. His flag-draped coffin was guarded by two dress-uniformed police officers, part of the familiar tapestry of high-profile civic funerals. 

Even more colorful were the stories told of Newark's first African-American mayor, whose tenure from 1970 to 1986 covered a period of critical change for the city. 

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While a man played jazz saxophone riffs in the background, Newarkers came forward to talk about the role Gibson played in the city's history, and in their lives, as they lined up to pay respect. 

"When Ken Gibson walked through the door of our house on Huntington Terrace, I was in awe. It was like the president had arrived," said Darrin Sharif, a former Central Ward councilman whose late father, Carl Sharif, was one of Gibson's main advisers. 

"He comported himself with dignity and professionalism," Sharif said. "His sensibilities as an engineer, with that kind of critical thinking perspective, was what Newark needed, not the acts of an entertainer. He was substance over style, every time."

Gibson's mild-mannered personality and leadership style were remembered as key factors in helping Newark recover from the devastating impact of the 1967 riot, which tore the city asunder and shook the confidence of its people to the core.

"He calmed the waters. That's the best thing he did," said state Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D - 28th), whose district includes parts of Newark. 

"Ken acted responsibly after [Gibson's predecessor, former Mayor] Hugh Addonizio was caught unaware and didn't see the riot coming," Caputo said. "He brought people together in the aftermath to lay the foundation for a better Newark. I know why I'm here today. It's out of respect."

"The world was upside down. A lot of people ran out of Newark. But a lot of people stayed, in part because of Ken's leadership," said Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, Jr., a Newark native who grew up in the city's North Ward. 

"Mayor Gibson and [North Ward Center founder] Steve Adubato worked closely together," DiVincenzo said. "What they were able to do to help keep Newark going at a rough time shows the power of working together. We can all learn a lot from them." 

For Eric Adams, the leadership lessons he got from Gibson were even more personal.

"My mother was a tenant activist in the Hayes Homes housing projects. Ken and his campaign guys would gather about twenty of us kids around, hand us flyers, and we would slip one under all the doors of all the apartments in all of the towers," said Adams, now the assistant finance director for the City of Newark. 

"A lot of black folks didn't believe that a black guy could win to be mayor of Newark," Adams said. "It had never been done before. But the riot galvanized people. It made them angry enough to do something."

"The thing is, Ken won, but he wasn't angry. It was like a foreshadowing of when Barack Obama got elected president years later. To be the first African-American elected to that position, you needed someone educated, well-spoken, mild-mannered. Ken was that man in Newark," Adams said. "It had to be him."

"I'm here today because I owe it to my mom," Adams said before he lined up to pay his respects in the rotunda. "We are the children of the people who were there for Ken Gibson when he needed us. And we're here for him now."