It was Bill’s funeral and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Yonkers was packed.
Best way to go, everybody said. Died in his sleep. He was 82.
No one had expected it. He had been going to the office four days a week and just the other day he had walked from his office to attend the funeral of a friend.
So many people were trying to get into the old church that the ushers were hard put to make sure that Bill’s widow, the children and spouses, and the grandchildren were seated in the front. Not to mention the many nieces and nephews, grandnieces and nephews, and even great grandnieces and nephews. By the time all the mourners had arrived, there was standing room only.
Shortly before the service was to begin, a distinguished looking gentleman about the age of the deceased arrived. He was escorted to a pew just behind the family.
Immediately there was a buzz, as many of the mourners recognized him.
The minister came to the altar, the crowd quieted, and the service began.
When it came time for the eulogy, the minister said “Ladies and gentleman I give you the Honorable Herbert Henry Lehman, former governor of New York and recently retired member of the United States Senate.”
The crowd gasped. “The former Governor of New York?! Giving Bill’s eulogy?”
And “A Jew is going to give the eulogy in an Episcopal church?”
The distinguished gentleman stepped up to the podium.
“Ladies and gentlemen. You are perhaps wondering—perhaps asking yourselves: How is it that at the funeral of a man neither rich nor famous, there is standing room only?
“We might expect to see at the funeral of an elderly man with neither fame nor fortune, a few dutiful family members and a few old friends who had managed to outlive him.
“True Bill was from a large family with seven brothers and sisters, and many of the members of his extended family are here with us today. But large families were the norm for people of his generation, yet such large turnouts at their funerals are unusual.
“What was it then, about Bill that draws so many mourners? I suspect also that many of you are wondering how it is that I am one of the mourners.
“I shall tell you.
“Many years ago—in 1895 to be exact---I entered Williams College. I had three things against me. I was a freshman, I was fat, and I was Jewish. In the vernacular of today I was a ‘square’ ”.
“Nowadays it is not such a bad thing to be Jewish. It is worse to be fat. In 1895 it was worse to be Jewish than to be fat, but it was not good to be either.
“Except of course to a man like Bill. He was a year ahead of me, handsome, dashing, and popular. For some reason he thought I was ‘okay’. I was ‘okay’ with Bill so that made me ‘okay’ at Williams.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if it were not for the friendship of Bill I would not have graduated from Williams College. Had I not graduated from that prestigious institution I would not have become an army colonel in World War I. I would not have become lieutenant governor of this great state of New York, nor Governor, nor United States Senator.
“I therefore owe my entire career to Bill.
“And I know that each of you here today can recount what Bill’s friendship has meant to you. From his unpretentious office on Park Avenue, his influence extended far and wide. During the Great Depression, he provided jobs. A man of simple tastes, his favorite pastimes were spending time with his family, playing his flute, and enjoying nature. Yet when it came to his fellow man he was a true cosmopolitan. His heart was open to people of every race, creed, and color. His office was a place where anyone was welcome. Among the mourners gathered here today are individuals from every walk of life. Because Bill did not care how much money a man had or whether he knew all the right people or whether he was famous. To Bill everyone was the right people.
“You may think it unusual that a Jewish fellow is giving the eulogy in an Episcopal Church. Ladies and gentlemen I am here to tell you that Bill was a true Christian.”
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