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Chiles to get 200 miles of farewells

Gov. Buddy MacKay orders state offices to close Wednesday, the day of the late governor's funeral.


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 1998

TALLAHASSEE -- In places with names like Mossy Head, Caryville, and Cottondale, Floridians will pay their last respects today to Gov. Lawton Chiles.

Lawton Chiles
A journey that begins early this morning will take Chiles' body along more than 200 miles of U.S. 90 in rural North Florida to his final resting place in Tallahassee.

Wednesday, the day of Chiles' funeral, will be an official State Day of Mourning, and state offices across Florida will be closed.

"We are aware that the business of the state must continue," said Gov. Buddy MacKay, who was sworn in early Sunday, hours after Chiles' body was discovered. "But I believe it's important for all of us to take some time to honor and remember Lawton Chiles. Together we can celebrate his life and mourn the loss.

"We can remember his accomplishments and honor his memory."

MacKay said Vice President Al Gore will attend Chiles' funeral, among other dignitaries. Chiles' death was felt around the country, and MacKay said thousands of people have written letters or called to express sympathy.

Monday, aides frantically planned for what they predict will be a massive crowd in the state capital for the events surrounding Chiles' funeral.

Those events begin today, with the motorcade across the Panhandle.

Along the way, government buildings and private businesses will fly flags at half-staff. Adults and schoolchildren will line the roads to watch the procession through the rural, woodsy Florida that Chiles loved, the same route he walked in his famous 1970 U.S. Senate bid.

Moving at 35 mph and not stopping, the procession is scheduled to end at 2 p.m. today at Florida's Old Capitol, now a museum.

A groundskeeper rakes the lawn surrounding the state Capitol Monday, preparing for ceremonies. [AP photo: Mark Foley]

Chiles began his political career in the building, as a state lawmaker in the Florida House of Representatives. Tuesday afternoon, he will lie in state for crowds to view his closed casket.

Chiles, 68, died suddenly Saturday of an abnormal heart rhythm while exercising at the Governor's Mansion. A former U.S. senator and two-term governor, Chiles likely will draw a large crowd of mourners.

A small preschool at Faith Presbyterian Church, where the funeral will take place, will be closed because of the crowds.

The church seats 800, but people will be allowed on the grounds and overflow crowds will be able to watch the service on television in the church's fellowship hall.

As thousands gather, the whole city will be affected. Streets will be closed as the procession winds its way from the Old Capitol to the church, and then to the Roselawn Cemetery, where Chiles will be buried.

From 4 to 7 p.m., the Governor's Mansion will be open to the public to greet the Chiles family.

How will a small community like Tallahassee cope? MacKay said the size of the crowds won't matter. "Lawton Chiles was a man of the people," he said.

MacKay was quiet and somber Monday as he announced his first official act as governor: the executive order closing state government for the day of mourning. He is intimately involved with planning the funeral events and has emerged as a comforting figure for mourning Floridians.

"Lawton Chiles exemplified the very essence of public service, dedicating his life, his career and his good works to the benefit of the people of Florida," states the executive order, which MacKay read. "Lawton Chiles died during his remarkable tenure as governor, and died an honorable man, in an extraordinary public servant, and a true statesman."

Wednesday's funeral comes at period of transition in state government.

Gov.-elect Jeb Bush takes over in exactly three weeks and has been getting headlines for making key appointments and crafting his budget.

But now he is overshadowed by Chiles' death. Bush spokesman Cory Tilley said Bush is content to stay out of the limelight.

On Saturday, he remained in his Miami home as long as he could to avoid several television news crews that had gathered outside hoping to catch a quick interview about Chiles. Finally, he had to leave his house and made a statement.

He was planning to make more appointments this week but has decided to postpone the announcement, Tilley said.

Bush has not decided yet whether to scale back elaborate inaugural plans scheduled in several Florida cities.

The events would require a dramatic mood swing in Tallahassee and around the state, just after Chiles' death.

Bush plans a fiesta in Miami, a celebration with children in Orlando and an inaugural ball and gala in Tampa. In the state capital, he plans a parade in downtown Tallahassee and an open house and festival at the Governor's Mansion.

"I'm sure the tone may change of some of the events in Tallahassee," Tilley said. "You can't help but have more of a somber tone."


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