1985 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Believe it. Try it. Try harder, until there is no effort left in you."
Mario Cuomo was born in 1932 in the Queens section of New York City, the youngest son of Italian immigrants. Illiterate and poor, Cuomo's father cleaned sewers in New Jersey before saving enough money to open a grocery store in an ethnic neighborhood in South Jamaica, New York. Mario was born in the family's apartment above the store. The Cuomo family struggled through the Depression. To earn extra money, Cuomo's father sold sandwiches and snacks late at night to the shift workers at the factory across the street from his store.
Cuomo's parents instilled in him an abiding belief in family, country, and God. Years later, in his diaries Cuomo wrote that they taught him "respect for family; the sense of obligation to senior citizens; a shameless, bold patriotism; a respect for law and order; a recognition of the importance of education; a gratitude of God's nature and a feeling of responsibility for it."
As a young boy, Cuomo worked in his father's grocery after school and on weekends. An avid sports fan, he played baseball and basketball with his neighborhood team. He entered St. John's Prep High School in Brooklyn and made the varsity basketball team as a sophomore. He won a scholarship to St. John's University and continued to play basketball for amateur teams to earn pocket money. He also played baseball for his college team and was picked up by the Pittsburgh Pirates after his sophomore year. After several months of playing with the minor league team in Georgia, Cuomo was hit on the head. He suffered headaches from the injury and decided to return to school. He dedicated himself to his studies and was voted Best All-Around Student. He graduated summa cum laude and then entered St. John's Law School, where he finished at the top of this class in 1956.
In 1958, Cuomo joined a law firm in Brooklyn and made partner by 1963. He also served as an adjunct professor at St. John's Law School. In 1974, he made his first bid for public office, entering the race for lieutenant governor. He lost, but the new governor appointed him secretary of state. In 1977, he ran for mayor of New York City, losing in a close run-off election. He was later elected lieutenant governor. In 1982, he was elected governor of New York. He served three terms and captivated the nation with his keynote address during the 1984 Democratic National Convention.
Currently, Cuomo is practicing law with the New York firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP. He is the author of several books, including Why Lincoln Matters Today More Than Ever, Reason to Believe, More Than Words: The Speeches of Mario Cuomo, and The New York Idea: An Experiment in Democracy.
Cuomo says, "If you measure success in life by how much joy it brings you, you're measuring inaccurately. Life is also sadness, defeat, striving."