Mourners line up for funeral of 77-year-old who died after emergency care was delayed

Medric Cecil Mills Jr. was eulogized Saturday in the stone church founded by his father on a street in Mount Pleasant symbolically bestowed with the family name.

It was a private funeral to honor a 77-year-old man whose death Jan. 25, after collapsing across the street from a D.C. fire station, has been a public spectacle and an embarrassment for the city.

Authorities are investigating why firefighters inside the station refused to help the stricken Mills. The family wanted Saturday to be a day of mourning, not of politics or inquiries, to celebrate a man — known as Cecil — who had worked 47 years for the city; devoted 55 years to his wife, Sandra; and spent his free time helping less-fortunate strangers.

People lined up for an hour to get inside Canaan Baptist Church at Newton and 16th streets in Northwest — friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers, politicians and a few wearing jackets with D.C. fire department insignia. Cars in the funeral procession double-parked for two blocks as police directed traffic. The church would not allow members of the news media into the service.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) attended but made no comments as he walked by reporters.

Mills’s son, Medric Mills III, pastor of a church in Brentwood, asked Gray to make a few impromptu remarks after the eulogy. The mayor’s spokesman said that Gray offered his profound regret and sadness.

It was not easy to escape the circumstances under which Mills died. After he collapsed in the parking lot of a strip mall on Rhode Island Avenue in Brookland, bystanders rushed across the street to the fire station to summon help.

They returned to tell Mills’s daughter, Marie, that a firefighter had refused, saying that someone first had to call 911 so firefighters could be dispatched. An ambulance eventually was sent but went to a wrong address.

A police officer flagged down a passing ambulance that ultimately took Mills to the hospital, where he died of an apparent heart attack.

On Saturday, as a viewing was being held before the funeral, the chairman of the D.C. Council’s public safety committee announced that a hearing on the events would take place Feb. 24. District officials have said an investigative report could be completed within two weeks. Mills’s family has called for those involved to be fired.

Inside the church, private remarks came from Mills’s son — who went to high school with the District’s fire chief, Kenneth B. Ellerbe. Years ago, the city honored Canaan Baptist Church by giving it the symbolic address of “M. Cecil Mills Way” in honor of Mills’s father, who founded the church in 1947. It moved to its current location in 1963.

Mills’s three grandchildren wrote a tribute to the man they affectionately dubbed “Gaga” — for a “grandfather who always gave his all.”

The stories of Mills that have emerged since his death demonstrate a life of dedication — to his family, to his job and to people he didn’t know, whom he would help by giving rides, visiting elderly shut-ins or even, in one case, hunting down a pair of socks for a cold, homeless man.

The family is fond of saying that Mills “never met a stranger. He met a friend.”

He knew the fire chief and sometimes chatted with him over lunch on U Street. He fought with the Navy in the Korean War. He married his high school sweetheart, now 75, after they met at the football stadium at Dunbar Senior High.

In the funeral program, his son wrote: “I just want to thank you for teaching me and molding me into the man, husband and father that I am today.”

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