BY BONNIE SQUIRES
You know someone very important has died when the President of the United States, President Obama, issues a declaration announcing all American flags to be flown at half-staff on all government properties, military bases, embassies, etc., in the nation and around the world, to salute Senator Arlen Specter on the day of his funeral.
And you know how important Senator Specter was to the nation and to the state of Pennsylvania when the Vice President of the United States, Vice President Joe Biden, is one of the speakers at the funeral, having foregone campaign stops in two critical swing states: Colorado and Nevada. He was there to pay tribute to his dear friend.
Har Zion Temple was the site of the funeral, and the thousands of people who poured into the main sanctuary, which had to be opened up to include the ballroom behind it, represented a cross-section of America.
If I were to list all of the notables who showed up to honor the memory of a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Senate, I would need an entire page. But I want to list some of them so you get an idea of the vastness of Specter’s influence across three decades of service in Congress. Senator Bob Casey, Congressmen Bob Brady, Chaka Fattah, and Pat Meehan; Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz; Governor Tom Corbett; former Senators Harris Wofford, Chris Dodd and Ted Kauffman; former Congress members Marjorie Margolies and Bob Borski.
Judges and lawyers and U.S. Attorneys and academics and heads of charities and former Specter staffers by the score populated the seats at Specter’s funeral. Candidates and former candidates from both sides of the aisle came to pay tribute to a mover and shaker who according to every speaker, did the right thing, the fair thing, even when voting for President Obama’s stimulus package would cost him his seat in the Senate.
But the people asked to speak by Joan Specter were close personal friends, like Biden. Like Ed Rendell. Like Flora Becker, widow of Judge Ed Becker. Like Judge Marvin Katz. Like Steve Harmelin, Esq. Like Shanin Specter’s long-time law partner, Tom Kline. Like Shanin Specter, the Senator’s son, and two of Arlen’s four grand-daughters.
Perhaps most remarkable, in all of their praise of Specter’s fairness and acumen, was the telling of how, less than two weeks before his demise, Specter insisted on teaching his class on the Constitution at Penn Law School.
Probably half the people in the throng owed their careers to Arlen Specter, either through having been hired by him when he was either District Attorney, or having been appointed by him when he chaired the Judiciary committee.
Governor Rendell’s anecdote was remarkable. When Specter lost the third time he ran for D.A., Rendell decided to leave the D.A.’s office and set out on his own. Specter offered to recommend Rendell to the then-chair of the Republican City Committee. Rendell sheepishly said that he was a Democrat, something which Specter had not know, because he never asked and did not care what party his assistant D.A.s belonged to. He only wanted the best and the brightest.
Because humor was a major thread throughout Specter’s career, each of the speakers included one or two anecdotes which made the mourners laugh. And there were quotes from Shakespeare and other poets as well. Specter did indeed represent “a life well lived.”