Friends and former colleagues, including Vice President Joe Biden, two former Pennsylvania governors, judges and others on Tuesday mourned the loss of former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, calling him an “irreplaceable” man who was so determined to beat a string of illnesses that he managed to teach one last law class less than two weeks before his death.
Specter, 82, died at home Sunday of complications from non-Hodgkin lymphoma. His funeral service was held Tuesday afternoon at Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, near Philadelphia.
No cameras were allowed in the service, but cameras did capture dignitaries arriving at the synagogue throughout the morning.
Biden, former Govs. Ed Rendell and Dick Thornburgh, and other power brokers from various walks of life were among hundreds attending the funeral in a Philadelphia suburb to pay their respects. Specter died at his suburban home on Sunday at 82 after battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The temple seats 1,200 and it was standing room only. Former Pa. Governor, Ed Rendell, who spoke at the service, called Specter the most significant politician since Benjamin Franklin.
"He gave me my first job, was at my wedding. . .All of us who worked for Arlen. . . we all felt a great sense of pride in him; he felt a great sense of pride in us," Rendell said after the service.
U.S. District Judge Jan DuBois, a law school friend of Specter's, recalled how Specter approached everything in life “with intensity, determination and grit,” managing to teach one last law class on Oct. 4 at the University of Pennsylvania Law School on the relationship between Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Biden said he'd never seen someone with as much “undaunted courage” as Specter. He said his former Senate colleague's fights with cancer should give hope to all families battling the disease.
“He believed he could change the world, if he just worked hard enough at it,” Biden said.
Specter's long political career thrust him to the center of many pivotal events in modern American history. He promoted the single-bullet theory in the death of President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s, questioned Anita Hill about sexual harassment claims she raised against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in the 1990s and more recently worked to promote Mideast peace plans and stem-cell research.
President Barack Obama ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at the White House and other public buildings Tuesday.
"Arlen never walked away from his principles and was at his best when they were challenged," said Biden, who often rode home on the train with Specter from Washington, D.C.
Specter will be remembered as a political moderate who switched parties twice in his career but mostly served as a Republican. He waged a short-lived run for president in 1995 on a platform that warned fellow Republicans of the "intolerant right.''
“He really set the standard for working across party lines and we're going to miss that,” U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said, adding that Specter taught him a lot when he joined the Senate.
Specter crossed party lines to support Obama's economic stimulus bill in 2009, one of only three Republicans to do so. Anger over his vote led him to run for re-election as a Democrat. But he failed to win the Democratic primary, ending his 30-year Senate career.
Specter had won his Senate seat in the Reagan landslide of 1980 and, as one of the Senate's sharpest legal minds, took part in 14 Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Earlier in his career, he had served as counsel to the Warren Commission investigating Kennedy's death and prosecuted Teamsters officials in Philadelphia as an assistant district attorney.
Anthony J. Scirica, the chief judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, called Specter “irreplaceable.”
“He touched so many lives,” Scirica said. “He had some tough times, but he always thought that he was working for the public good.
“He was a staunch friend of judiciary and of keeping the judges free from political influence.”
Doug Saltzman worked for Specter and had some insight into the man most of us never saw.
"At times, he had a sense of humor that really threw staffers for a loop sometimes. You wouldn't expect Arlen Specter to be riding along in a car singing show tunes as we were heading from one county town hall meeting to the next," Saltzman said.
Specter had fought two previous bouts with Hodgkin lymphoma, and also overcome a brain tumor and cardiac arrest following bypass surgery. Following the funeral service he was buried at Shalom Memorial Park in Huntingdon Valley.
He is survived by his wife, Joan, sons Shanin and Steve and four granddaughters.