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Ex-senator's contributions recalled

Published January 30, 2007


BAL HARBOUR - The sanctuary was dim, the flag's colors vivid and the speakers' words precise.

They read the words of the Bible, poets and the brokenhearted as they described former U.S. Sen. George A. Smathers.

"Some people make the world more special just by being in it," the Rev. David Rees, pastor of Church by the Sea, said Monday. "George Smathers was such a person."

In his 93 years, Smathers endured many labels - statesman and scholar, racist and mudslinger.

In the end, though, his life was summed up in a subdued hourlong service as his body lay in a flag-draped wooden casket.

Smathers served two terms as a Democratic representative and three as a senator. He died Jan. 20, several days after suffering a stroke.

About 300 people paid tribute to Smathers at the United Church of Christ congregation he often attended. Besides the celebrant, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was the only one to step behind the pulpit and speak.

Nelson was a college intern in Smathers' office and now occupies the same desk in the Senate chamber.

He outlined his predecessor's career - as a close friend of John F. Kennedy, an expert on Latin America and a man whose work is evident across the state, from the Everglades (which he worked to designate a national park) to the Kennedy Space Center (for which he helped secure funding).

"Sen. Smathers, thank you on behalf of a grateful nation," said Nelson, a Democrat.

He called attention to Smathers' votes in support of two civil rights bills but did not mention that the senator worked to water down the legislation and voted against the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 in an attempt to appease segregationist white voters.

Those actions led some to label Smathers a racist, though those who knew him claimed he simply was trying to keep his job.

[Last modified January 30, 2007, 01:39:17]

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