When former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens made a commitment, people could bet their lives that he would follow through, Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday at the funeral of the Senate's longest serving Republican.
Stevens, who died last week in a plane crash in southwest Alaska, was remembered by Biden and other speakers as a fierce defender of Alaska and its way of life.
The funeral Wednesday marks the end of three days of remembrances that began Monday when several hundred people attended a Catholic Mass in Anchorage. Mourners filed past a closed casket Tuesday as Stevens' body lay in repose at an Episcopal church.
Biden said one could count on Stevens to follow through on his commitments. In remembering how he and Stevens bonded over the deaths of their first wives, the vice president struck an emotional chord, saying the two grew together as friends and were part of each other's lives.
"His word is his bond," Biden said. "His personal generosity was surprising in how quickly it was offered."
Biden also brought laughter to the packed church, recalling Stevens' success in bringing federal money back to Alaska. Biden said "significant" amounts of money that belong to Biden's home state of Delaware and other states is now in Alaska.
More than 20 current and former senators, governors and foreign representatives also attended the funeral, which was being broadcast nationally.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Stevens would be remembered not only for all he did for Alaska — bringing billions of dollars to the state — but also for all the lives he touched.
"Ted gave so many the wings to fly," she said.
The funeral is being held at Anchorage Baptist Temple, Anchorage's largest church. It can seat over 2,000 people in its auditorium, and an additional 2,000 seats have been set up in an overflow area to accommodate mourners.
The 86-year-old Stevens was appointed to the Senate in December 1968 and spent 40 years in office, becoming the longest-serving Republican senator in the nation's history. (The late Strom Thurmond was in the Senate longer than Stevens, but he spent a decade there as a Democrat before switching to the GOP.)
Stevens died along with four others when their plane crashed Aug. 9 north of Dillingham en route from a corporate-owned lodge to a fishing camp. Four people, including ex-NASA chief Sean O'Keefe and his son Kevin, survived.
The others killed in the crash were pilot Theron Smith, General Communications Inc. executive Dana Tindall, her 16-year-old daughter, Corey, and William "Bill" Phillips Sr., who had worked with Stevens in Washington.
Phillips' 13-year-old son, William "Willy" Phillips Jr., survived the crash and has been released from Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. A memorial service for his father was scheduled for Friday in Potomac, Md.
Kevin O'Keefe also has been released from Providence.
The fourth survivor is lobbyist Jim Morhard, who remained in fair condition Wednesday at the Anchorage hospital. The elder O'Keefe also was being treated there, but his family has asked that his condition not be released.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.
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