The man in the heavy wool coat lingered for what seemed like an eternity beside the flag-draped coffin, his loss obviously deeply felt.
"Everyone knows him for the big things," Charles Hamel said slowly. "But Lord knows how many people like me in this town he helped in a very personal way when we needed it."
He is in his middle years now. But he remembered it like yesterday. How 20 years ago lie had come to Washington with wife and child, broke, wanting to get a college education. A friend introduced him to the senator.
"I didn't know him from Adam. But he was touched by my situation. He got me running an elevator that used to be right over there," he said, pointing off the Rotunda. "It wasn't much. But it got me started in school. I'll never forget it. He was a great man.
It was 2:15 p.m. The pageantry was over. The family and dignitaries had left. The family and dignitaries had left. And now, as Ursel Frank of West Hyattsville, Md.; said, "Hubert Humphrey belongs to the people."
And for hours yesterday, the people filed slowly through the Rotunda of the Capitol, draped, as it has the black cloth of death, honoring a fallen leader.
They stood in the cold, damp air on the Capitol steps, wearing their heavy coats and overshoes, many carrying cameras. Each - the mourners and the curiosity seekers - the friends and enemies - brought his or her own reason for being there.
"I have a great admiration for the man," said Perry Maiden, a young history teacher."I grew up in Mississippi during the civil rights movement. It seemed we were surrounded by enemies. Our governor was a segregationist; our senators were segregationists. It seemed everyone around us was against civil rights.
"But every now and then we'd hear the voice of Hubert Humphrey saying that racial justice and equality are what the country is all about. You can't imagine how refreshing and encouraging that voice was."
The television cameras captured the big movements of Humphrey's final return to Washington, the arrival at Andrews Base of Air Force One, the same plane that carried the remains of former Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to Washington. It was met by Humphrey's friend and fellow Minnesotan, Vice President Mondale and his wife, Joan.
Muriel Humphrey, the senator's widow, emerged from the plane followed by 26 members of the Humphrey family. She looked surprisingly resilient with her silver-gray hair, peach-colored dress and fur coat. As she neared a crowd of friends, staff members and former aides, her grandson, Benjy, ran forth to embrace her.
A 19-gun salute followed the family's slow, steady steps both there and at the Capitol.
Perhaps the most gripping moment of the day was the long, slow climb up the Capitol's 32 steps as the U.S. Army band played "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." The family strung out on the steps behind Muriel Humphrey, Vice President Mondale and Minnesota Sen. Wendell R. Anderson, and the casket.
They paused two thirds of the way up the steps, a typical American family, the senator's sons with their shaggy hair, their wives in their cloth coats, the small children in their ski jackets and woolen stocking caps, sharing their family grief with the nation.
Tears flowed in the crowd of about 300 gathered on the Capitol sidewalk. "I can't help remembering what Humphrey said last fall: 'A fellow who doesn't have any tears doesn't have any heart," one man said.
But the day was one more of quiet admiration for Humphrey and the optimism he brought to life and death than one of outward emotion.
Rev. and Mrs. Robert J. Wasterberg brought their two teenage daughters from Altoona, Pa., to pay their respects. "The snow was deep there when we left," Lorraine Westberg said. "People thought we were crazy. But we didn't think we were. We had to come here.
"We all just loved Hubert Humphrey for all the work he's done for the underdogs of this country. We couldn't let the snow keep us away. We just loved him."
Humphrey's unsuccessful three races for the presidency, his unpopular support for the Vietnam war and his overweaning optimism, all considered by some to be liabilities during his life, seemed to increase his stature in death. "With all his disappointments, he always bounced back," said Mrs. Francis Zello, who grew up in Duluth, Minn. "He didn't dwell on his defeats."
The blacks who came to the Rotunda were particularly moved by the death of the senator, who his days as mayor of Minneapolis in the 1940s.
He was a man "who spoke out when it wasn't popular," said Beatrice Standley, a D.C. schoolteacher. "He was a great friend of our people."
She wanted her children to see the casket, she said. "I don't want them to miss this. They know what a loss it is. I wanted them to remember his great spirit. Just like we held up Martin Luther King for them to emulate, so we did the same with Hubert Humphrey. My children will remember him."
Humphrey of course, was first and last a politican. And many of those most deeply moved by his death were political allies, aides, former aides and campaign workers. After almost 30 years in Washington, they number many.
Robert McCandless, his national director organization in 1968, had tears in his eyes as he saluted Humphrey's casket, his hand over his heart.
"He was never disappointed with his campaign in the way the rest of us were," he said. Life didn't hold disappointment for Hubert Humphrey. You couldn't help but be touched by his life and his optimism.