Friends, colleagues say farewell to California congressman's late wife

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The storm having cleared, but with lots of heavy lifting still ahead, Rep. George Radanovich's friends and congressional colleagues gathered Thursday in memory of the veteran lawmaker's late wife, Ethie.

Following a one-day, snow-driven postponement, more than 120 mourners and celebrants gathered inside the spacious Good Shepherd Catholic Church to reflect on Etheline Weaver Radanovich's life. Tears and laughter mingled, though not in equal proportion.

"Ethie's in heaven," longtime friend Kathy Hadden said, "and with her impeccable taste, she is probably redecorating and putting mints on every pillow."

Ethie Radanovich died last Thursday at age 50, following a three-year bout with ovarian cancer.

The 75-minute memorial Mass on Thursday wove together the personal, the political and the simply poignant. Hadden knew Ethie Weaver from her schoolgirl days in Bartlesville, Okla. Another speaker Thursday, Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, was one of half a dozen members of the House and Senate attending the service occurring a 30-minute drive from Washington.

All the speakers struck a remarkably similar theme: Ethie was a hoot.

"No one ever worked harder to ensure everyone around her was having fun," Dreier said.

There were stories galore, in between the Gospel readings and communion. The time Ethie, while a University of Oklahoma student, called the Chicago mayor for an impromptu interview. The time Ethie arranged for an opera singer to pop up during a dinner party. The Oscar-watching parties, complete with envelopes and red carpet.

Joy, that's the word for it.

"Hello, hello!" Ethie would call out when she'd arrive at a pal's front door, friend Mary Beth Powers recalled.

Ethie knew from tragedy. Her father, a chemist, and her mother, a talented writer, both died when she was a senior in high school. She ended up spending the year shuttling between friends' houses. She was the youngest of five sisters, only two of whom are still alive.

She adored politics, and might have appreciated the congressional gossipers speculating sotto voce Thursday about who will replace the retiring Radanovich. Even before she worked for the National Republican Senatorial Committee or the Burlingame-based political consulting firm Woodward & McDowell, a young Ethie Weaver would successfully lobby friends' parents for, say, a chance to attend a musical concert.

"Not only did I get to attend the concert," Hadden said, "but my parents extended my curfew by two hours."

Ethie Weaver met George Radanovich in the 1980s, before he went into politics. It took him about nine years "before he finally got enough courage to ask her out," Woodward & McDowell project director Dave Fogarty said. After that, love galloped on and the couple married in 1996.

Their son, King, was born in 1998. He is now 11.

On Thursday, King stood tall and held his father's hand while they walked up the aisle of the church, following another boy carrying a cross. Radanovich did not speak during the service, but conversed with well-wishers in a reception held afterward.

"Tough days lie ahead," Dreier said.

Momentum only carries one so far. Radanovich confided in Dreier how he feels like a stone that's been skipped across a pond: The stone skims and leaps and skims again, but each time it's sinking deeper into the water.

Though that may not be the way his late wife would see it.

"It's not going to be the same," the Rev. Chuck McCoart said, "but things are going to be OK. We're going to find the strength to wake up tomorrow and go on."

Citing his wife's illness, Radanovich announced his congressional retirement in late December. He has not yet said what he plans to do, or where he plans to live, when his current term expires in January 2011.

A second memorial service for Ethie Weaver Radanovich will be held at noon on Sunday, Feb. 21, at the Sierra Meadows Country Club in Ahwahnee, Calif.

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Mariposa Bears Football League, c/o Dave McNally, P.O. Box 2098, Mariposa, Calif., 95338, or to Mariposa Parks & Recreation Department for the Mariposa Little League, c/o Shannon Hansen, P.O. Box 732, Mariposa, Calif., 95338.