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Mourning with joy for a life well-lived


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 17, 1998

They took the body of Gov. Lawton Chiles out of Faith Presbyterian Church to the strains of Beethoven's Ode to Joy, that grand, final movement of his Ninth Symphony, trumpets blaring.

Lawton Chiles

Florida salutes Chiles on his final walk

Mourning with joy for a life well-lived
[Lucy Morgan]

Mansion opens its doors, heart for one last goodbye

Overflow crowd bids farewell to man they admired

Continue Chiles' work for children [Editorial]

You might think it strange to end a funeral with some of the world's most joyful music, but it was fitting for the end of a service that was much more a celebration of life than the mourning of a death.

Certainly there were tears, especially when Chiles' grandchildren sang and his children stood to describe the father they shared with Floridians all these years. But overall, there was joy for a life well-lived and a job that was mostly done.

And if you knew the words that go with the stirring music of Beethoven, a man who was deaf when he wrote it, you'd know it celebrates the fact that "All men are brothers" and includes near the end: "Joyful, like a hero going to victory."

Old friends from across Florida and the nation gathered in Tallahassee on Wednesday for something of a reunion and to say goodbye to our one of a kind governor. It was in many ways the end of an era.

Some of these men will gather again for other funerals. The governor's death is an awesome reminder to all of them that time is short and none of us knows when that bell might toll next.

One of those who came to the funeral was former Agriculture Commissioner Doyle Conner, wearing a hospital bracelet. He said they gave him a four-hour pass to come to the funeral. He's recovering from heart bypass surgery.

Chiles would have been a little uncomfortable with all the praise. After all, he prided himself on being an ol' Cracker who was most comfortable walking through the North Florida woods in search of the perfect turkey.

His friends compared him to Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Jesus. Vice President Al Gore recalled the 1995 day when Chiles, wearing a coonskin cap, paused amid inaugural festivities to shoot a potato gun at the mansion. It prompted laughter, as did so many other remembrances. Chiles loved a good joke, especially one that came at the expense of someone he liked.

They sang his favorite songs, the dirge-like Sing Hallelujah to the Lord, the triumphant A Mighty Fortress Is Our God and ended with Glory, Glory Hallelujah! -- better known as that Yankee hymn, The Battle Hymn of the Republic. (I always thought they had the better song, and it probably helped them win that little dispute among the states.)

Former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, an old hunting buddy, recalled how Chiles' famous walk across Florida helped Nunn himself win an election. Nunn's opponent thought walking the state was such a good gimmick that he set off to walk all over Georgia, unaware that Chiles walked mainly near population centers and always stopped to do television interviews each day.

"My opponent got into the South Georgia pine woods and was never heard from again," Nunn added.

The funeral also attracted many Republicans, including Gov.-elect Jeb Bush and dozens of legislators who sat shoulder to shoulder with Democrats. Chiles was easily the state's best-known Democrat, but he long ago made peace with Republicans. Indeed, Senate President Toni Jennings noted that the last two years of his tenure produced some of the best results -- despite having to work with a Legislature controlled by Republicans.

The governor's old friend Mallory Horne, the only man in this century to be speaker of the House and president of the Senate, was among the last to eulogize Chiles.

"He died with his boots on and therefore he'll never have to quit being governor of Florida, and I like that."


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