Mourners remember Coverdell Emotional friends recall life of popular senator

Sunday, July 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA – Political leaders from around the nation and Georgia packed a church Saturday to say goodbye to Paul Coverdell, the second-term senator who died of a brain hemorrhage.

Some fought to choke back tears, including Gov. Roy Barnes, who had difficulty saying, "Goodbye, old friend."

Mr. Coverdell, 61, who died Tuesday, was remembered as a gentle man and as a politician who preferred to work behind the scenes rather than hog the spotlight.

Republican presidential hopeful Gov. George W. Bush had no role in the service at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, but he sat with Mr. Coverdell's widow, Nancy.

In addition to Georgia's congressional delegation, mourners from Washington included dozens of Mr. Coverdell's Senate and House colleagues, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.

The White House was represented by Defense Secretary William Cohen.

One of several eulogies read at the service was written by Mr. Bush's father, former President George Bush, who said Mr. Coverdell "told us that quiet is good; caring about the other guy matters." Mr. Coverdell served in the former president's administration.

Mr. Barnes said Mr. Coverdell became his mentor when he was first elected to the state Senate even though they were of different parties. Mr. Barnes is a Democrat; Mr. Coverdell was a Republican.

Despite their political differences, they became close friends and at one point counseled each other on their political plans, Mr. Barnes said.

"Oh, how we need more of him," he lamented. "It would take away some of the acrimony."

Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas drew chuckles and smiles with his remembrance of Mr. Coverdell.

"We won't soon forget that squeaky voice, that disheveled hair, those flailing arms," Mr. Gramm said. At the same time, he said, Mr. Coverdell's friends and admirers also would remember his "lion heart, iron will and loving ways."

Mr. Coverdell was "the kind of man your mama wanted you to grow up to be," Mr. Gramm said.

Longtime friend Clyde Rodbell also fought back tears.

"In many ways, he was simply an ordinary man with special qualities and huge talents," he said.

Other Georgia politicians attending were former Gov. Zell Miller, said to be Mr. Barnes' top choice to fill Mr. Coverdell's seat; former Gov. Lester Maddox; and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.