Commentary: Remembering Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens

The flag-draped casket sat on the altar at All Saints Episcopal Church, flanked by military guards, their faces blank. The public trickled in, voices hushed. Some people wore raincoats. Some wore suits. Some pushed strollers. Each waited for a turn to stand for a moment in front of Ted Stevens' casket.

Outside, Stevens' children and grandchildren mixed with the line of family friends, political acquaintances and mourners, hundreds of them. People traded stories about fishing trips, congressional appropriations, constituent letters, Senate votes and passing encounters.

Stevens wasn't your classic high-gloss politician. He was temperamental. He loved to spend money. He held grudges. But in line outside the church were the faces of the people who voted for him again and again, proof that his dog-eared brand of politics worked.

Standing on the sidewalk, I met Verona Gentry, a retired nurse-midwife, who told me about how Stevens' office once wrote to support her daughter's Naval Academy nomination, which was a shining moment for her. Another time, she ran into the senator in Girdwood and he interrupted his breakfast just to chat with her, a perfect stranger.

Greg Kimura, president of the Alaska Humanities Forum, told me about Stevens' support for the U.S. government's apology to Japanese Americans who had been sent to internment camps during World War II. Kimura's family was sent from Alaska to a camp in Idaho at that time.

"Many people in his party were not supportive of that," Kimura said. But Stevens supported it because he felt it was the right thing to do, he said.

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