Service celebrates the life of Ted Stevens

August 18, 2010 

Ted Stevens' friends and former colleagues, including the vice president, remembered him at his funeral service as a generous, loyal man who went far beyond partisan politics and was a master in delivering vast sums to the state he embodied.

Wednesday's service was a celebration of his life, with fond stories and laughter, adding to the tearful tributes made since Stevens died in a plane crash last week. On either side of the lectern, two pairs of toy "Incredible Hulk" fists stood on tables, between bouquets of flowers, a tribute to the fiery senator's comic book alter-ego.

As many as 2,300 people watched the service from the sanctuary of the Anchorage Baptist Temple, with an estimated 600 more in overflow rooms watching on television. Alaska has seen no memorial like it, with a guest list of 11 U.S. senators and 10 former senators, including Vice President Joe Biden. Most of the state Legislature was there. So were five Alaska governors, including a rare Alaska public appearance by Sarah Palin. There was a princess from Easter Island on the guest list, the postmaster general of the United States and the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee. It was televised statewide and on C-SPAN.

The vice president recalled how the Alaska Republican Stevens reached out to him when Biden, at the time a 30-year-old Democrat from Delaware, was first elected to the U.S. Senate. Biden, lowest in the Senate in seniority, had lost his wife and baby daughter in a car accident a month after he was elected.

"(Stevens) walked across the floor of the Senate to my corner desk ... extended his hand and said, 'I want to get to know you. Ann and I want you to come to dinner," the vice president recalled.

Kevin O'Keefe and Jim Morhard, two survivors of the plane crash that killed Stevens, listened from the front row. Both were in wheelchairs, Morhard wearing a neck brace and a cast, resting his arm on a tray with three small pillows.

Biden said Stevens always kept his word, was quick with generosity, and embodied his home state like no other senator. Biden quoted the Irish writer James Joyce, who once said that "when I die, Dublin will be written in my heart."

"I have no doubt, not a single doubt in my mind, that Alaska is written in Ted's heart," Biden said.

He gave a jesting tribute to Stevens' ability to steer federal to Alaska. "A significant portion of the money that belongs in Delaware and New York and Georgia ... resides right here," Biden said to applause. "I'd like to say that we did it willingly."

BEYOND IDEOLOGY

Steven's close friend, Hawaii Democratic Sen. Dan Inouye, said Stevens was a man of trust, a good friend who went beyond the idealogy that divides politicians.

"We made the word bipartisan become real. Real. And, as you look around here among his colleagues, former colleagues, you will see a lot of Democrats," Inouye said.

Inouye remembered when the two spoke after the 1978 plane crash that killed Stevens' first wife, Ann. "When I saw him, he said, 'Why Ann, not me?' He was ready to give up, but he realized he had a duty to carry out, so he stuck on," Inouye said.

Inouye also brought up a federal jury's 2008 finding that Stevens was guilty of failing to disclose gifts. The verdicts were later thrown out because of prosecutorial misconduct and the Justice Department dropped the case.

"I knew it, we all knew it. He was not guilty. And he was vindicated, cleared of all charges," Inouye said to the biggest applause of the day.

In the pews, Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, who narrowly defeated Stevens in the 2008 election, sat clapping. U.S. Rep. Don Young nodded next to him.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had called on Stevens to resign from the Senate soon after the guilty verdict, also spoke at the funeral service. The Kentucky Republican did not mention Stevens' trial. He said it is hard to imagine that any man ever meant more to a single state than Stevens did to Alaska.

"Once you've spent a little time in Washington, you notice that certain senators can lead a kind of double life. They can play one role in Washington and another role back in their home states. In other words, they can use their job in the Senate as a platform to reach a national audience beyond their own constituents back home. For four decades, Ted Stevens was a living, breathing antithesis to that approach."

"In his view, if it wasn't good for Alaska it wasn't good. Period."

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski put it simply, saying in her tribute that "Ted was Alaska."

'LOST A MOUNTAIN'

The service began and ended with images of Stevens shown on a screen in the sanctuary, photos of him meeting with presidents and back home in Alaska. Before the ceremony, state Rep. Lindsey Holmes, D-Anchorage, and Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, walked to sign the guest book outside the sanctuary when McGuire noticed a picture in the lobby: A young Stevens, wading to his knees as he fished with a pipe in his mouth and a pistol holstered on his hip.

"Look at that photo, Linds," McGuire said. "What a stud. I love it."

The service included voices not usually heard talking about Alaska's senator for four decades, like Rear Adm. Barry Black, the chaplain of the U.S. Senate. "Senator Stevens gaveled me in for the Senate prayer and we would have a wonderful conversation before each prayer and he always left me with a smile."

"He loved bow ties and got me addicted to bow ties. I should have worn one today. And he was proud of the fact he could tie a bow tie as easily as most people could tie their shoes. Once I tied one, it would have to stay that way or I would be in trouble, but he could tie a flawless one. He'd pull it apart and say, 'It's easy, chaplain,' " Black said.

The Rev. Norman Elliott, a retired Episcopal priest and longtime Stevens friend, said "Alaska and the nation have lost a mountain," He suggested naming a great peak somewhere in Alaska after Stevens and calling it "Uncle Ted."

Anchorage Baptist Temple Pastor Jerry Prevo was the final speaker. He said he wouldn't be surprised if the wiry, compact Stevens was 6 feet, 10 inches tall in his new life. "He's going to be the Hulk we all knew he was," Prevo said.

Bagpipes played as a military honor guard carried Stevens' flag-draped casket out of the sanctuary. Stevens' family followed, trailed by the vice president.

The screens inside showed Stevens' casket being loaded onto a hearse in the Alaska sunshine. The 2,000 people in the sanctuary stood, watching it pull away.

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