Former Sen. Arlen Specter’s longtime friend looked down from the podium at the high-ceilinged temple filled with mourners and said, “I can feel the spirit of my longtime friend Sen. Specter surrounding me, looking at a crowd this size and wondering, ‘How can we turn this into a fundraiser?’”
The mourners erupted in laughter. A crowd of about 1,200 attended Specter’s funeral at the Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, Pa. on Oct. 16. The five-term Pa. senator, Penn Law professor and 1951 College graduate died Sunday of complications from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was 82.
The funeral brought in friends, family and public figures, including Vice President Joe Biden and former Pennsylvania governor and 1965 College graduate Ed Rendell. However, the focus of the speeches remained on Specter’s personality.
“When I was asked to write a paper about a role model … I always wrote about Arlen,” College freshman Silvi Specter said of her grandfather.
While others mentioned Specter’s career, they tied his accomplishments back to his character.
“My name is Joe Biden, and I was Arlen’s friend,” the vice president said to open his speech. Biden was supposed to be campaigning in Colorado and Nevada but canceled to attend the funeral.
Biden recalled his Senate bid in 1990, when Specter made an advertisement for him to use in a contentious election, despite Specter’s struggles in his own Senate election. “Do you know anyone who would do that in politics, knowing it would hurt him badly?” he said.
Biden added that the entire Specter and Biden families were close.
“[I feel a] sense of peace knowing my granddaughter and Silvi are freshmen together at Penn,” Biden said. “My connection with Arlen continues through our granddaughters.”
Those in attendance remembered Specter’s determination in all aspects of his life. As the pall-bearers lifted the American-flag draped casket and carried it out of the temple, Frank Sinatra’s “I Did it My Way” played over a loudspeaker.
Rendell saw Specter early Saturday morning, the day before he died.
“He was as fierce as usual,” Rendell said, recalling Specter saying, “Rendell, tell those nurses I should be allowed to walk. I need exercise.”
Shanin Specter, too, recalled his father’s determination. “As he liked to tell us, ‘Never let your face show how hard your ass is getting kicked,’” he said.
Specter was lauded for being a moderate and doing political work across the aisle. Rendell said that, during his time in Specter’s District Attorney’s office, Specter did not know Rendell was a Democrat until his last few days in the office.
“There are people in politics that have sort of a dual personality. [They’re] one person in front of the camera and another person when the cameras aren’t there,” funeral attendee Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) said.
“He was the same guy — combative, cantankerous, but the same guy,” he added. He remembered Specter taking time to pose for a picture with a dying man at a fundraiser although it put him off schedule.
Former senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), in attendance at the funeral, remembered Specter’s independence. He said he nearly called Specter last week but didn’t do so.
“The next time you think you should call someone, call them,” he said.
Specter had joined the Law School faculty in 2011. This semester, he was slated to teach a class called “Congress, Constitution and the Supreme Court” with his former General Counsel Matthew Wiener. Specter taught the class for the last time on Oct. 4.
“America has lost an icon,” Penn President Amy Gutmann said in a statement.
Gutmann attended the funeral. “Arlen was a public servant who was willing to go out on a limb for things he believed in and to fight tirelessly for what he could do to make this country better,” she said.