The family took its place in the first two rows of the Washington Hebrew Congregation yesterday morning as the Belmont string Quartet played Haydin, andante. Among the 600 people gathered to "give thanks for the life of Joseph Hishhorn which has brought joy to so many," in the words of the rabbi, you could spot people from every facet of Hirshhorn's life.
There was Lady Bird Johnson, who slipped in with a Secret Service escort just as the ceremony got under way. There was New York artist Raphael Sawyer, 82, his diminutive form almost hidden by his chair. There was Olga Hirshhorn, still wearing the violet scarf rent by a rabbi to signify mourning on the night of her husband's death two weeks ago at age 82.
In the misty-eyed crowd were dealers and artists (famous and unknown), business associates and lawyers, fellow collectors and assorted Washington rich folks who had become part of the Hirshhorns' extended family here. "He was a spellbinder with the power to enchant," said Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley, in the first of six highly personal eulogies.
"His passion for art was hard to distinguish from the passion that created the art in the first place," said Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, chairman of the trustees of the Hirshhorn Museum, who arrived late after weather problems delayed his plane in New York. And former Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas called Hirshhorn "a miniature in size but a giant in action."
Hirshhorn's only son, Gordon, 52, a family counselor from Stamford, Conn., spoke of his father's voracious appetite for books. "Like Thomas Carlyle, he believed 'the history of the world is but the biography of great men.' "
During the service and afterward, friends exchanged more of the anecdotes that always seemed to sprout in Hirshhorn's wake. "Joe never liked me to say it," said Toronto geologist Franc R. Joubin, "but we first met in the men's room in the Toronto office building we shared. We said hello and Joe asked me what I did, if I was married, how many kids I had. I told him I was a geologist and he said, 'Hey, I need a geologist. Come see me.' " Joubin began working for Hirshhorn and soon led him to the uranium deposits that made him a multimillionaire.
Washington collector David Lloyd Kreeger recalled the day he went to buy a painting by Larry Poons, only to discover that "Joe had been there that morning and had already bought out the show." He also spoke of Hirshhorn's "whimsical habit of self-deprecation and his love of dancing, in which he indulged, indoors and outdoors, at the first tinkle of a tune."
Larry Rivers, 56, one of Hirshhorn's favorite artists and an enfant terrible of the '50s art world, left his jeans at home and wore a natty three-piece suit and string tie. He gave Olga Hirshhorn a big hug and laughed with her about the fact that when she asked him to speak at the service she also asked him "not to say anything dirty." "And I didn't, did I?" said Rivers, who is now working on his "definitive portrait" of Hirshhorn.
As the crowd departed into the misting rain, Olga Hirshhorn gathered up the relatives and out-of-town visitors and took them home for lunch. Today she will leave for Florida for a few days of rest and the opening of a show of her art collection in Miami later this week. "I was going to cancel," she said, "but I've got to get back to living. After all, I had Joe for 20 years and it wasn't as if he got up and went to work each day. He was here. He was my baby. We depended on each other."
She said that she will fly to New Mexico on Nov. 15 to help Georgia O'Keeffe, 93, celebrate her birthday -- something she and her husband had done for years. "I had a sweet note from her inviting me to come. It's comforting to know that she wanted just me."