Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Dignitaries remember Ted Stevens’ achievements, goals at former senator's funeral

ANCHORAGE — Ted Stevens was Alaska.

That was Vice President Joe Biden’s assessment of the long-time senator Wednesday as he eulogized his friend and colleague.

“I have no doubt Alaska is written in Ted’s heart,” Biden told a crowd of several thousand mourners and dignitaries who gathered at a memorial service at the Anchorage Baptist Temple.

Biden recounted how, as a freshman senator, Stevens made a point of introducing himself shortly after Biden’s first wife and young daughter were killed in a car crash.

Stevens invited Biden to dinner, and the two quickly became friends.

“They were there for me in ’72 and we were there for him in ’78 when he lost Ann,” Biden said, referring to the plane crash that claimed the life of Stevens’ first wife and seriously injured Stevens.

It was a second plane crash Aug. 9 that killed Stevens and four others while they were on a fishing trip in southwestern Alaska.

At least 10 U.S. senators, four former Alaska governors and about two dozen members of the Alaska House and Senate attended Wednesday’s memorial.

Uniformed members from every branch of the military guided Stevens’ casket to the front of the temple, accompanied by the sound of bagpipes.

Amid floral arrangements to each side of the stage stood two pairs of green foam Hulk hands. The senator occasionally donned ties featuring the comic-book character before speaking on the Senate floor.

Before the ceremony, three large screens above the stage displayed photos and videos from Stevens’ lengthy career in public service, as well as home movies of him fishing with his family.

The photos ranged from a meeting with President Dwight Eisenhower, during Stevens’ time as an attorney in the Department of the Interior, to a handshake he shared with President George W. Bush.

“Ted had a passion for this land and the people he represented,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said. “And he treated them not as constituents, but as neighbors.”

Murkowski said Stevens’ commitment to the state in fisheries, aviation, the military and nearly every other facet of life in Alaska will be felt for decades to come.

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, recalled Stevens as a force that was “admired and feared” in Washington for his unwavering commitment to the state.

Unlike some politicians who seek the Senate to reach a national audience, Stevens was concerned first about his constituents, McConnell said.

“In his view, if it wasn’t good for Alaska, it wasn’t good, period,” McConnell said.

Hawaii’s Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye recalled how in the ’60s, shortly after Alaska and Hawaii gained statehood, other senators viewed him and Stevens as representatives of foreign territories. Inouye and Stevens, both World War II veterans, became particularly close. They were committed to bringing modern infrastructure to the nation’s two non-contiguous states, Inouye said.

When Stevens lost his 2008 election bid, his 40 years in office made him the longest-serving Republican senator in America’s history. He was 86 when he died.

Inouye brought up Stevens’ trial, just ahead of the 2008 election, on charges of failing to properly report gifts, including remodeling done on his Girdwood home. Although Stevens was found guilty, the conviction and indictment were dismissed a few months later because of prosecutorial misconduct.

“We’ve been reminded of the trial, but we knew he was not guilty. He was vindicated, and he was cleared of all charges,” Inouye said to thunderous appplause.

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Source: By Chris Freiberg. Original printed April 19, 2010