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Overflow crowd bids
farewell to man they admired


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 17, 1998

TALLAHASSEE -- Shirley Shabazz pulled out of Lakeland at 3:15 a.m. Wednesday to bid farewell to her first boss.

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]

In the 1970s, Shabazz, 50, was an aide to Lawton Chiles, then a U.S. senator. Nearly 30 years later, she drove to the state capital to get in the long line outside Faith Presbyterian Church for his funeral.

"He was a people's person," said Shabazz, who works for the housing authority in Lakeland. "He made you feel appreciated. He remembered your name."

Wednesday, hundreds of ordinary people and dignitaries came to remember Chiles, who died Saturday, three weeks before the end of his eight-year term as governor.

People began gathering in the shade of pine trees at mid-morning for the service scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.

Inside the church, there were 400 seats for dignitaries and 400 on a first-come, first-served basis for ordinary folks. The spillover crowd filled a fellowship hall, which also seated 400. In addition, 200 seats were set up outside the church. People watched the service on big screens but participated as well, standing when the congregation stood and singing the hymns.

They cried during the poignant moments and laughed at the jokes.

Inside, mourners squeezed into pews. There was a who's who of American politics, from South Carolina Sen. Ernest Hollings and Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner.

State officials arrived in tour buses. The Florida Cabinet, the state Board of Regents, almost the entire state Senate and House leaders attended, both Republicans and Democrats.

As the famous arrived, onlookers pointed and whispered their names.

Outside, the not-so-famous were remembering the Lawton Chiles they knew.

"He was a common old farm boy," said 79-year-old Russell Sloan, who first met the governor when Chiles walked through the tiny Panhandle town of Milton in 1970. "He treated the poor just as good as the rich. He never had no big head."

People admired Chiles because they related to him.

"'He called my mother up about two months ago and wanted to know how she was doing, and she was sort of shocked that the governor would take time to call her," said the Rev. Mary Calusell-Prather of Tallahassee. "That shows what kind of person he was."

Said Vincent Lipsio of Gainesville: "I don't know if he knew me, but he always walked up to me like an old friend and shook my hand."


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