NEW YORK – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez called Frank Lautenberg “a man for his time” at a funeral service today held at Park Avenue Synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Lautenberg, the U.S. Senate’s last serving World War II veteran, died Monday morning of complications from viral pneumonia. He was 89.
Vice President Joe Biden, Gov. Chris Christie, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and former governors Jon Corzine, Jim McGreevey and Jim Florio were among the prominent political figures in attendance at the funeral, according to a pool report of the event. Also present were U.S. Reps. Rush Holt (D-NJ-12) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ-6), who are both expected to seek Lautenberg’s seat in the upcoming special election.
“I realize it’s beyond my capacity to find the words to do justice to Frank Lautenberg.” Biden said before giving the longest speech of the service and called Lautenberg “one of my closest friends in the Senate.”
Clinton called Lautenberg a “steadfast champion of women’s rights and opportunities.”
“He was the one who stopped smoking on airplanes,” she added. “He was the one who raised the drinking age to 21,” which kept thousands of families from having to mourn loved ones, Clinton said.
“Anyone who knew Frank knows he was destined to make something of himself and he did,” Menendez said. “I will remember his life as a testament to what it is possible to achieve in America.”
Rabbi Daniel Cohen of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange told the assembled gathering that Lautenberg called him a few weeks about “the inevitable.”
“He told me he wanted to be remembered as a man from humble beginnings who had done good,” Cohen said, adding that Lautenberg wanted others from similar circumstances to be able to do the same.
Lautenberg’s children spoke of how he occasionally regretted announcing that he would not seek another term in February. ”On days that were good he would say I never should have made that retirement speech,” daughter Ellen Lautenberg said.
Lautenberg’s wife, Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg, gave the final speech of the service. “Rest in peace, my love. I will miss you always. And thank you for the most beautiful memories and an extraordinary life,” she said.
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