Adm. Hyman G. Rickover was remembered yesterday as a paradoxical visionary, a man who transformed modern warfare with his idea of a nuclear-powered submarine but who later decried the destructiveness of atomic research. He was recalled as a scholar who pushed for reforms in the teaching of science but who loved the humanities. And he was eulogized as a leader whose harshness was legendary but who never ceased to worry about those under his command.
About 1,200 friends, family members and colleagues filled the main hall of Washington Cathedral to pay respects to Rickover, who died last week at the age of 86. Rickover was buried Friday in Arlington National Cemetery in a private ceremony.
Attending yesterday's service was Secretary of State George P. Shultz, representing the Reagan administration; Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.); most of the members of the House Armed Services Committee, and former President Carter, who recited John Milton's "Sonnet on His Blindness" in honor of his former commander.
Among the scores of active and former military personnel present was Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr., who ordered Rickover into involuntary retirement in 1982, an act for which Rickover supposedly never forgave him.
Most of the traditional ceremony -- which included the playing of Bach chorales by the Navy Band, the presentation of the American and Navy flags by the Navy Ceremonial Guard, and the singing of the Navy Hymn by all in attendance -- was devoted to a recitation of Rickover's accomplishments and the no-nonsense philosophy behind them.
Adm. James D. Watkins praised Rickover as "a modern Renaissance man" who pursued his dream of a nuclear Navy with uncompromising zeal while maintaining safety and efficiency as his primary concerns.
"He knew how to take a vision well beyond exisitng technology and bring it to effective fruition, despite the hurdles consistently thrown into his path," Watkins said. "And long before fraud, waste and abuse became buzzwords in our nation's capital, Adm. Rickover was insisting on . . . putting excellence over excuses in managing our nation's military business."
That position, coupled with his characteristic outspokenness, earned Rickover more respect than popularity, "but even his critics applauded him," Watkins said.
Although Rickover was considered a maverick throughout much of his 63-year Navy career, a reverence for hard work kept him going, Watkins said. "He would surely chide us all for even allowing this service today, and would ask us why we weren't back at work doing something constructive," he said.
Rear Adm. John R. McNamara summed up Rickover's work ethic by recalling two plaques that sat on the late admiral's desk. One read, "When you waste time, remember: even God cannot undo the past," and the other, "The blessing of Heaven is perfect rest. The blessing of Earth is toil."
Carter, who worked under Rickover during the 1950s, provided the ceremony's only light note when he told of the time he visited the USS Los Angeles as commander in chief. Rickover put the president and his wife to work on the submarine, Carter said, and later told the press that the first lady had performed admirably. When asked about his former student, Rickover "said he had no comment to make on the president's performance," Carter said.