KTUU: 'Ted Stevens was Alaska'

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Thousands of mourners paid their last respects to Sen. Ted Stevens Wednesday afternoon.

Stevens' funeral service was held at Anchorage Baptist Temple, and drew crowds of military service members, former staffers, U.S. dignitaries and Alaskans.

His casket was escorted in by military pallbearers and a large number of honorary pallbearers to "Amazing Grace" played on bagpipes.

On stage were displayed Stevens' set of giant green fists, representing the Incredible Hulk, to whom he was often compared for his attitude on the floor of the Senate. His grandsons sported Hulk ties, which Stevens was known to wear before a particularly important hearing.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski read a poem written by Dr. William Ransom Wood, but first spoke of the outpouring of support shown Tuesday night for Stevens' funeral procession and for Stevens himself.

"Ted was Alaska – he just was Alaska and he will be remembered for all he built in this state," she said.

Vice President Joe Biden, who served in the Senate with Stevens for 36 years, spoke as a former colleague and personal friend. Biden, who, like Stevens, lost his wife in an accident, said he remembered particularly his first days in the Senate when Stevens shook his hand and said, "I want to get to know you."

Stevens' first wife, Ann, was killed in a plane crash six years later, and the two senators became close friends. He said his measure of a friend is, "whether your friend is willing to share with you the things he values the most."

Biden spoke about sharing stories about their children and their achievements, and echoed Murkowski's statements: "Ted Stevens was Alaska."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., gave the second of three tributes. He told Alaskans that, "Ted Stevens devoted every day of his life, not to the promotion of himself, but to you."

McConnell lauded Stevens' work in the state. "Ted's contributions to Alaska are as vast as the state itself… in his opinion, if it wasn't good for Alaska, it wasn't good, period."

He said that Stevens' legacy would last "as long as the flag is flown" for his work to make Alaska a state.

Another senator who knows about building statehood, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, gave the final tribute.

Inouye and Stevens were well-known for a bipartisan friendship that was so tight they called each other "brother."

Inouye recalled the days when each of them were representing territories. It was cheaper to call Tokyo from Washington, D.C., than it was to call Honolulu, he said, and cheaper to send a telegraph to Australia than to Anchorage. "We did something about it."

He spoke of Stevens' conviction – and its being overturned. "He wasn't guilty. We knew it, and he was vindicated, cleared of all charges," he said, receiving his first of numerous rounds of applause.

He spoke of the importance that many former senate colleagues in attendance were Democrats, including Biden. "The Vice President is a Democrat -- yes!" he said, as if convincing an unbelieving crowd, making the vice president and former senator turn bright red, and drawing forth more applause. He received a standing ovation at the end of his eulogy.

The final speaker was the Ven. Norman Elliot, who besides being an archbishop in the Episcopalian church, was a personal friend of Stevens since the 1950s, when Stevens was a prosecutor in Fairbanks.

He conjured the essence of John Donne's poem, which reads, "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main."

"Some of you have lost a grain of sand; some of you a pebble," Elliot said, "and some like myself have lost a boulder … but Alaska and the nation have lost a mountain."

Elliot called for an unnamed mountain to be located, and named after Stevens – not Senator Ted Stevens, but "Uncle Ted."

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Source: By Kortnie Westfall. Originally broadcast August 18, 2010