At the beginning of Leigh Weimers' memorial service, Rev. Peter Pabst made a request.

"If you ever read Leigh's column, please stand," Pabst asked.

The crowd that filled St. Joseph Cathedral rose as one.

That, Pabst said, was the remarkable influence of Weimers, the long-time Mercury News columnist who died Aug. 30 at age 76 following heart surgery.

Monday afternoon, many remembered a man whose newspaper column entertained and informed countless South Bay readers as his words helped to make the big city of San Jose feel more like a small town. Pabst praised Weimers for being relentlessly civic-minded and using his daily pulpit in the morning newspaper to find ways to improve the region.

"As a columnist, Leigh had the ability to showcase organizations that helped our community and made it a better place," Pabst said. "Not only would Leigh write about organizations, but he served on their boards as well. Leigh helped so many groups, not to mention the arts like the symphony and theater."

That community turned out to honor Weimers. Among the hundreds who gathered at the downtown San Jose church were generations of newspaper workers, civic leaders and friends -- all of whom had been touched in some way by Weimers.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed was there along with past mayors Tom McEnery and Janet Gray Hayes. Also in attendance were Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone, former San Jose City Council members Frank Fiscalini and Pat Dando, and San Jose Repertory Theatre founder James Reber. They were just a few of the many community movers and shakers who came to pay their respects to Weimers, who was praised for his smiling presence, kindly demeanor and unofficial role as ambassador for San Jose.

Colleen Wilcox, the former Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools, told of how it always amazed her that at functions, Weimers and his wife of 50 years, Geri, never had to circulate in the crowd. Instead, the crowd invariably would come to them because "Leigh was the center of our local gravity."

Added Wilcox: "Leigh was a man of few words. But could he ever listen. And when he did talk, it was to ask a good question or to answer one. And his answer usually was yes."

Weimers, whose career spanned 47 years, was an important voice helping chronicle the transformative changes of a region that went from an agriculturally rich Valley of Heart's Delight to the high tech-juggernaut Silicon Valley.

A native of Napa, he attended then-San Jose State College and was hired at the Mercury News after graduating in 1958 -- initially as a general-assignment reporter covering a city that had less than 150,000 residents. Other than a two-year hitch in the Army, he never left.

He began writing his column in 1965 and had a rare knack of capturing the people and places of a growing area with a light touch.

"His charm and humor were imprinted on every column he wrote," said Sal Pizarro, who took over for Weimers after he retired in 2005. "He had a passion for the Santa Clara Valley and a genuine fondness for the people whose names wound up in bold type under his byline."

The column, Pizarro added, actually was a daily conversation with readers where amusing stories about local residents doing interesting things were shared.

"People grew up and grew older with him, marking their own advancing years as the picture that ran above his column changed from a casual guy with bushy hair and a bushier mustache to a dapper gentleman, silver on top with a clean-shaven face," he said.

Weimers retired from the newspaper on his 70th birthday. But he never really stopped being Leigh. He continued to write a monthly column for San Jose Magazine, provide commentaries on San Jose radio station KLIV and pen a blog about issues important to Baby Boomers.

Son-in-law Bill Church spoke for the family and described a man whom Weimers' readers surely would have recognized: Decent, honorable and always smiling.

"Leigh Weimers wished to be remembered by three words: Thanks for reading," Church said. "On behalf of all of us, I would like to say: Thanks for writing."

Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.