“In the battle for the soul of America today, John Warner is a reminder of what we can do when we come together as one nation,” Biden said.
He acknowledged their difference in parties but applauded Warner’s ability to reach across the political aisle — his understanding, Biden said, that “empathy is the fuel of democracy.”
The president mentioned Warner’s presidential endorsement of him in 2020, saying it gave him a sense of confidence.
“While we represented different political parties, I can say without hesitation that John was a man of conscience, character and honor, with a deep commitment to God and country,” Biden said.
Warner — who was in the Senate from 1979 to 2009 — died of a heart ailment at his home in Alexandria on May 25. He was 94.
The ceremony at the cathedral — where Warner had been baptized — included eulogies from Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, both Virginia Democrats, and Adm. Michael Mullen, who lauded the late leader for his diligence, consensus-building and independence in office.
Before Warner was elected to the Senate in 1978, he served as undersecretary and secretary of the Navy during the Nixon administration and oversaw the nation’s 200th-anniversary celebrations. He also received attention for his six-year marriage to film star Elizabeth Taylor.
Warner used his experience serving in World War II and as an officer in the Korean War in the Navy and the Marines to work on military affairs while in the Senate. He served as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and provided support and guidance for President George W. Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq.
Before the service, guests gathered in the pews clutching paper programs and chatting while the sound of the Marine Chamber Orchestra’s strings filled the air.
Biden was joined by other prominent guests — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), and an array of former Virginia governors from both parties: George Allen, Jim Gilmore, Charles Robb, Terry McAuliffe and Bob McDonnell.
Mark Warner, who unsuccessfully challenged John Warner for his Senate seat in 1996, joked about the Warner v. Warner race that confused voters, prompting laughter from the pews.
“Unlike so many in elected office, John Warner was never afraid of putting his credibility, his reputation, his good name behind something when it mattered,” Warner said.
Kaine added to the sentiment, saying that their difference in political parties never mattered.
“It was always inspirational to me that he never hesitated to choose the path of country and character instead of simply going along with the orthodoxy of the day,” Kaine said. “That example should continue to challenge us all.”
The service continued with prayers and gospel before ending with guests singing “America the Beautiful” accompanied by the cathedral’s organ.
Warner attended St. Albans School, which is affiliated with the cathedral, before receiving an engineering degree from Washington and Lee University and a law degree from the University of Virginia. He is survived by his wife, Jeanne Vander Myde; three children; and two grandsons.
Andrew Wahlquist had known Warner since 1973, working closely as his Senate chief of staff, deputy administrator of the bicentennial and campaign manager for his first run for Senate. He said Warner would have enjoyed the service and wouldn’t be surprised if he had some role in planning it himself before he died.
“He was a planner,” Wahlquist said. “He was always thinking ahead.”
With a tiny pin on his jacket reading “Warner” from the 1978 election, Wahlquist remembered his friend as an honest gentleman. He recalled Warner telling him once that he wanted his tombstone to read: “Here lies honest John.”
“He was genuinely interested in other people and advancing their careers,” Wahlquist said. “He always knew where he was and what he was doing. He was very compassionate.”