Pall bearers steadily moved the flag-draped coffin carrying the body of Senator Arlen Specter through massive Har Zion Temple, and as they took their small, halting steps, Frank Sinatra’s large anthem of a full life, "My Way," played to the 15-hundred people who had gathered to recall a "great statesman" and a remarkable man.
Friends, family and dignitaries gathered today in Penn Valley: Vice-President Joe Biden, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, past and current U.S. Senators, elected officials from throughout the region, the Deputy Israeli Ambassador and more. The nearly two hours of reflection was at times humorous, at times tearful, but always as the Senator might have liked, moving forward. It was also at times presented as if attorneys were making the case for a man’s greatness. If it were a debate, they would have won it.
The Vice-President canceled campaign appearances in western swing states today to be here to say goodbye to his friend. He began his remarks with, "My name is Joe Biden. I was Arlen’s friend." He was in full Biden seriousness and in full Biden humor. It was no doubt like the train rides the two of them shared. Joe Biden said of his friend, "Arlen had exceptional character," and that he had “never seen a man with as much undaunted courage.”
Former Governor Ed Rendell, who was hired by District Attorney Arlen Specter, said "We were proud of you…We will always be proud of you." Rendell’s voice broke a couple of times as he praised his mentor and colleague.
Longtime friends of Arlen Specter remembered his early days and the personal side of the very public figure. Words such as "true grit," "will," and "integrity" filled the eulogies. Arlen lived, "A productive and meaningful life." "He wasn’t afraid to fail."
Tribute was paid to widow Joan Specter. Granddaughters spoke, too. Said Sylvie of her grandfather, "He worked tirelessly to be the best grandfather ever, and he succeeded." Specter’s son, Shanin, summed up the afternoon’s recollections and expanded on his father’s love of the fight for fairness and of standing by friends in trouble, regardless of political consequences. Said Shanin, "He was “the patron saint of lost causes."
The above were among the public statements I heard, but before the service began I spoke with people from various walks of life, all who genuinely are pained by the loss of a man who made a difference. Among them, those with a stake in the fight against cancer, community leaders, as well as public figures indebted to his leadership. Pall bearer and Congressman, Pat Meehan, for example, who wore the loss on his face.
Arlen Specter did not plan this final service. As he told his family, "surprise me." But as Sinatra filled the quiet of the Temple, it felt, after 82 years on earth, 59 years of marriage, kids and grandkids, students and colleagues, wins and losses, causes, quests, and even windmills, it felt right to say that Arlen Specter did do it his way.