At funeral, Murtha remembered as family man who looked out for his constituents

Gen. James Conway salutes as the flag-draped coffin of Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) is carried into Westmont Presbyterian Church.
Gen. James Conway salutes as the flag-draped coffin of Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) is carried into Westmont Presbyterian Church. (Carolyn Kaster/associated Press)
By associated press
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

JOHNSTOWN, PA. -- Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) was eulogized Tuesday as a patriot, a fighter for his constituents and for veterans, a consummate politician and a family man able to separate work from his personal life.

An audience of 400 attended Murtha's funeral, including former president Bill Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and most of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation. Murtha, the powerful head of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, died Feb. 8 at age 77 after complications from gallbladder surgery.

His daughter, Donna Murtha, said that while many of those in attendance knew him as a politician, she knew another side.

"I know him as Dad and my buddy and my pal," she said, fighting back tears. They didn't talk politics or economics; instead, he asked about the children she taught.

He loved Sherlock Holmes and mysteries, loved to watch deer and goldfinches in his yard and tried to outwit the squirrels who eyed the bird feeders, she said.

"He lived by the motto 'One man makes a difference.' We love you, Dad," said his daughter, who spoke on behalf of her mother, Joyce, and two brothers.

Pelosi; Gen. James Conway, the Marine Corps commandant; and the Rev. William George, president of Bethesda's Georgetown Preparatory School, all spoke of Murtha's power.

George read from Ecclesiastes, about times to laugh and mourn. He later said that, were the book to be written now, "the writer of Ecclesiastes could also have written, 'a time to make law and a time to change laws. And, yes, a time to earmark.' " The quip drew laughter from the pews of Westmont Presbyterian Church: Murtha was known for his ability to help bring federal money and projects to his western Pennsylvania district, which was depressed by the decline of the coal and steel industries.

Conway recalled first meeting Murtha in 2006. Murtha, the first Vietnam veteran to serve in Congress, told him, "You can't have everything, but tell me the two or three things you need and I'll get it." Conway said he figured having a fellow Marine in such a powerful position was a good thing -- only to learn that Murtha said something similar to the heads of the other military branches, too.

Pelosi said Murtha had a pride in the institution of Congress instilled in him by his mentor, the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill.

"To watch Jack Murtha legislate was to see a master at work," she said. "But more indicative of his character was to watch him communicate with our men and women in uniform.".

And when he spoke in opposition to the Iraq war, "he taught us all to make a distinction between the war and the warrior," she said.

Ernest Walker, a Johnstown lawyer who served in the Marine Corps Reserve with Murtha, attended the funeral and praised Murtha for nurturing a strong defense industry in Johnstown.

"We have a work ethic here that's great," he said. "They produce good weapons for the military, and hopefully, that will sustain. That will really be Jack's legacy."

Murtha's tenure was not without critics or controversy.

He defended earmarks, saying the money benefited constituents. And during a corruption probe, the FBI caught him on videotape in a 1980 sting operation turning down a $50,000 bribe offer while holding out the possibility that he might take money in the future.

Six representatives and one senator were convicted in that case. Murtha was not charged, but the government named him as an unindicted co-conspirator, and he testified against two representatives.

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