President Clinton, more than half the Senate and other dignitaries celebrated the late Sen. John H. Chafee on Saturday as one of the country’s great politicians.
Chafee, one of the last Republican moderates in the Senate, died of congestive heart failure last Sunday at age 77.
A horse-drawn carriage, accompanied by six Marine pallbearers, carried Chafee’s body from the Rhode Island State House to Grace Episcopal Church.
Attending the funeral were 51 of Chafee’s Senate colleagues, 14 former senators, President and Mrs. Clinton, three members of Clinton’s Cabinet and many state officials.
It was one of the biggest turnouts of national figures for the funeral of a U.S. senator--a reflection of the admiration Chafee earned during his four decades of public service, including 23 years in the Senate. President Clinton announced before leaving the White House for the funeral that he is honoring Chafee by naming a warship after him.
Clinton said the 40th ship of the Arleigh Burke class of guided-missile destroyers will honor the Rhode Island Republican.
“Given Sen. Chafee’s long association with the sea--with the Marine Corps, the Navy and the great maritime state of Rhode Island--I can think of no better way to honor his many contributions than to name a warship in his honor,” Clinton said.
Clinton said the Burke-class destroyers are among the Navy’s most technologically advanced ships. The one named for Chafee will “carry on Sen. Chafee’s legacy of honorable service to our nation.”
Chafee was a former secretary of the Navy in addition to having been governor of Rhode Island for six years and a member of the Rhode Island Legislature.
Chafee had a reputation for honesty and integrity, and for choosing compromise over partisan politics, and former Sen. John Danforth of Missouri said at the service that the nation needs more politicians like him.
“In politics there is a premium on finding issues that divide us, because divisiveness is a vote-getter,” Danforth said. “John Chafee bound us together. That’s why he was universally respected in the Senate.”
He led Senate efforts to protect the environment and expand health care and child care.
One of the senator’s sons, Zechariah Chafee, recounted his father’s life--as a champion wrestler at Yale, as a Marine who fought at Guadalcanal in World War II and in the Korean War, and as a longtime public servant.
When he was 8, he saved a friend from drowning after the pal had fallen through ice on a frozen pond. That friend, Bruce Sundlun, grew up to become a Rhode Island governor.
“What a man, what a life,” Zechariah Chafee, an assistant U.S. attorney, told the mourners.
One of John Chafee’s other sons, Warwick Mayor Lincoln Chafee, is a candidate for his father’s seat in the Senate.