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  • Albert Gore Sr. died Saturday.

  •   Gore's Father Eulogized as 'Inspiration'

    Vice President Gore hugs his mother Pauline after delivering the eulogy for his father, former senator Albert Gore Sr., in Nashville. (Reuters)
    By Ceci Connolly
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, December 9, 1998; Page A4

    NASHVILLE, Dec. 8—Vice President Gore, with his family, President Clinton and the first lady at his side, bade farewell to his father today in a warm and often witty remembrance of the former senator who taught him how to fish, deliver a newborn calf, and "be a father."

    "My father was the greatest man I ever knew," the vice president said in his 30-minute eulogy of Albert Gore Sr., a progressive southern Democrat who died Saturday, just three weeks shy of his 91st birthday.

    The cautious son, who rose to the position his more flamboyant father twice sought, praised him as a man whose political conscience was awakened by the Great Depression, a man "way ahead of his time" on civil rights and a man who at age 84 barnstormed the country in a bus campaigning for his son, the Democratic vice presidential nominee.

    "Dad, your whole life has been an inspiration," the vice president said, gazing down at the flag-draped coffin surrounded by 30 floral arrangements.

    Despite the presence of an array of Washington dignitaries and the armed personnel who guard them, the 90-minute service in the War Memorial Auditorium here had a family flavor, with the four Gore grandchildren speaking. Kristin Gore, 21, read a poem she had written about her grandfather.

    A college chorus sang spirituals as mourners flipped through a program laden with candid snapshots of the former tobacco farmer, who took great pleasure in "bringing down the house" with a lively fiddle or a feisty speech. Near the end, the audience clapped their hands to a scratchy tape of "Soldier's Joy," played on the fiddle by the late Gore.

    A "farmer who became a statesman," as his son put it, he was praised as a man dedicated to justice, even when it meant great political risk. In addition to the national highway system he helped create while in Congress, the former senator is perhaps best remembered for his unconventional stand on some of the most controversial issues of his day. In 1956, he refused to sign the southern manifesto protesting the Supreme Court decision outlawing segregated schools, and in the 1960s he became a prominent opponent of the Vietnam War.

    The Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks, former executive director of the NAACP and a family friend for five decades, called him a "20th century giant, one who led by example, served with humility, fought for principle."

    Complete with tales of his father's good humor and bitter defeat in 1970, the vice president's address was a highly personal, at times laugh-out-loud-funny, tribute. He remembered how, as a young adult, the elder Gore hooked a dead snake onto a friend's trouser legs, panicking the man and earning his reputation as a practical joker. Later his father was giving a New York magazine writer a tour of the family farm in Carthage, about 40 miles east of Nashville. When they came upon a cow stuck in a creek bed, the white-haired Gore stripped naked, dashed into the muck and rescued the animal.

    In his 14 years in the House and 18 in the Senate, Gore never hired a press secretary, his son said, because he couldn't stomach spending taxpayer money on someone whose "principal job was to publicly flatter him."

    Said the vice president in rare self-revelation: "Children with strong fathers learn trust early on, that their needs will be met; that they're wanted; that they have value. I learned all those things from my father."

    Albert Gore Sr., the "Gray Fox," could charm constituents with a homespun tale recounted in southern twang or move his fellow senators with a Ciceronian address. He did not smoke, drink or curse, by all accounts, though he was often spotted adjacent to the piano in Washington watering holes singing with other weekday bachelors in the House and Senate.

    President Clinton did not speak at the service, which was attended by about 50 Cabinet members, lawmakers and former members of Congress. The memorial was followed by a private funeral and burial in Carthage next to the grave of Nancy Gore, the vice president's only sibling.

    The elder Gore was educated in a one-room schoolhouse in Possum Hollow, then put himself through college and law school. Each night, he stopped in a local shop, where a student named Pauline LaFon poured his coffee for the 40-mile trek home. Married for 61 years, they made a potent political duo.

    Clad in a regal blue dress that shone in the sea of black, the 86-year-old Pauline Gore sat in the front row next to her daughter-in-law, Tipper.

    In Gore Sr.'s first race for the Senate, the vice president recalled, he instructed his family and volunteers not to tear down the signs of his opponent, Kenneth McKellar -- "The thinking feller votes McKellar." It was Pauline Gore who devised the counterattack, suggesting they tack a sign below that read: "Think some more and vote for Gore."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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