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Washington to Remember Diana

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 6, 1997; Page A14

Washington National Cathedral, which has helped bury presidents, generals and Supreme Court justices, will recognize Washington's claim to memories of Britain's Princess Diana in a public memorial service at 1 p.m. today.

"We received a lot of calls asking if we were going to have services. We recognized there needed to be some way to express the feelings for her," said the Rev. Patricia Thomas, the canon precentor, or worship director, at the cathedral.

The death of Princess Diana and the end of her bittersweet fairy tale touched Americans more than they might have expected, Thomas said. It was a wound to American optimism and a source of true grief, she said.

"Part of the grieving here is for American idealism, for the way we hope things would be," Thomas said.

"She died at such a young age, it makes us realize that even though we might dream what might be, we have to deal with the reality of what is," Thomas said. "Americans don't always deal with that very well."

The services at the cathedral, at Wisconsin and Massachusetts avenues NW, will be open to all. The doors will open at 11:30 a.m. If the 4,000-seat cathedral fills up, loudspeakers will be used to enable people on the west lawn to hear the services, officials said.

The dean of the cathedral, the Rev. Nathan D. Baxter, will officiate. Katharine Graham, chairman of The Washington Post Co. executive committee and occasional host to visits by Diana, will deliver a tribute. Biblical passages will be read by the British ambassador, Sir John Kerr, and by Bill Richardson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

The cathedral is Episcopalian, part of the Anglican communion headed by the Church of England, which Diana attended. But the service today is part of the larger role the cathedral serves, Thomas said.

"This is one way the cathedral can help the nation," Thomas said. "The death of Diana has been an event that captured the world's attention. She modeled a way of being that was really appealing to Americans. She also was a person that literally touched people."

Her touch, evident in repeated visits Diana made to Washington, has prompted what is being billed as "a black tribute to Princess Di," at 7 p.m. today at the Gospel Mission Homeless Shelter at Fifth and H streets NW.

"The life of Princess Di transcended all racial barriers," said Rocky Twyman, one of the organizers of the event. "After Britain has said its last goodbyes, black people in Washington will celebrate her unselfish life."

Men at the shelter will hear gospel music and operatic tributes as part of the service, Twyman said.

Diana first visited Washington in 1985 -- to see the Reagans at the White House -- and returned to star at fund-raisers for AIDS research, the Grandma's House charity for children and the London and Washington operas. In June, she was back to promote work by the American Red Cross to ban land mines and help the victims of mine explosions.

"Everybody here who saw her was quite taken by her," said Joseph McCarley, an official at Grandma's House, visited by Diana in 1990. "She was a beautiful person and a warm personality who had a great sense of humor."

One of the largest Washington crowds for Diana turned out, ironically, when she first visited Washington National Cathedral on Nov. 10, 1985, to worship with her then-husband, Prince Charles.

The tribute to Princess Diana in Washington has been most visible in the stream of visitors to the British Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue and the mountain of flowers, letters and mementos left there. More than 4,000 people have signed a book of condolence at the embassy. The doors to the embassy will remain open today for others who wish to sign.

"It's really been remarkable, and we've been touched by it," said Robert Chatterton-Dickson, a spokesman at the British Embassy. "There's been an extraordinary degree of support from the American people. I think it's been greater than anyone could have predicted."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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