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More than 10,000 bid farewell to Gov. Carnahan

October 20, 2000
By: Katy Scott
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - As a horse-drawn wagon brought Gov. Mel Carnahan's casket to his memorial service Friday morning, several of the more than 10,500 public attendees sobbed openly.

Following the wagon was a horse with a boot still in the stirrup, signifying the death of a rider. Later in the service, President Clinton would refer to the boot, saying "It was fitting that our friend, Mel, died in the saddle with his boots on."

Two National Guardsmen preceded the wagon, breaking the almost complete silence with the muffled sound of their drums, which were draped in black cloth. Eight members of the National Guard carried the cherry casket, covered with an American flag, down a red carpet to the base of the south steps of the Capitol as the St. Louis Symphony String Quartet played "Oh, Danny Boy."

Army National Guard members saluted the casket as it passed, remaining at attention as the Carnahan family, Vice President Al Gore, Tipper Gore, President Clinton and Hillary Clinton led a procession of more than 1,000 mourners.

Included in the procession were 33 Congress members, such as Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., House Minority Leader Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

The first of several of Carnahan's friends to offer a remembrance was former Sen. Thomas Eagleton.

Eagleton called the governor "a gentleman and a gentle man" and said that losing the decency Carnahan possessed made the past week one of the most painful in Missouri's history.

"In 'King Lear,' Shakespeare used the word 'scurvy' to describe politicians," he said. "Shakespeare did not know Mel Carnahan."

James Caccamo, former director of the Partnership for Children, then set a theme for the service when he spoke about Carnahan's love for children.

"I called him the children's governor," Caccamo said. "Governor Carnahan cared about children when caring about children wasn't cool."

Fighting back tears, two of Carnahan's children, Robin and Russ, also spoke about their father.

Robin said that although Carnahan held several offices, his job never changed him. She also said politics was a family affair that was discussed at the dinner table.

She recalled that her father often lit a fire before leaving for work in the morning. Without fail, she said, as he left for work, he would tell his family not to let the fire go out.

"So I'm here to say, Dad, I promise we won't let the fire go out," she said.

While sniffling, Gov. Roger Wilson, who was sworn in Wednesday morning, expressed sorrow for the loss of the governor, his son Randy and his aide Chris Sifford.

He also suggested one reason so many attended the memorial service.

"We all fiercely love our country, and Missourians fiercely love their state," he said. And, he said, Mel Carnahan "cared about every one of us."

Wilson then introduced "something I think Mel would enjoy," the Children's Choir of Jefferson City's First Baptist Church, whose 100 members sang "Jesus Loves Me."

Clinton delivered the last remembrance of the service, saying he, Hillary and the Gores were honored to attend the memorial. The president sniffled throughout his speech and said he has respected the governor since 1992, when Carnahan was then losing his bid for the governorship and Clinton was running a distant fifth in New Hampshire polls.

Although "he had absolutely nothing to gain from it," Carnahan appeared at the rally in southwestern Missouri to show his support for Clinton.

"I loved the guy," Clinton said. "And anyone who thinks he was dull never looked him straight in the eye."

Clinton ended his tribute with a final farewell to Carnahan.

"We'll miss you, Mel," he said. "We'll try to take up the slack, but we won't have another one like you. God bless you and Godspeed."

Finally, through tears, the Carnahan family surrounded the casket, laid red roses beside it and spoke privately.

After the Missouri Army National Guard performed a ceremonial artillery salute, two buglers played "Taps."

Then, four F-15 Missouri Air National Guard planes flew in "Missing Man" formation overhead, in which one plane deviated from formation to climb into the clouds as the other F-15s remained flying straight.

As a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace," National Guardsmen carried the casket back down the red carpet and again secured it on the wagon, but the coffin now was topped with a single rose, put in place by Carnahan's youngest grandson, Drew.

After the recession, about seven children emerged from the Capitol, each holding a bundle of red, white and blue balloons. The balloons were released and disappeared into the clouds as one last goodbye to the children's governor.