Sunday, September 17, 2006

President Clinton escorts Ann Richards' casket

POSTED: 2:15 p.m. EDT, September 16, 2006
From The Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- President Clinton tearfully escorted a flag-draped casket Saturday carrying former Texas Gov. Ann Richards into the state Capitol, where she will spend the next two days lying in state before her funeral and burial.

Clinton delivered poignant and at times funny recollections of the woman he called "spontaneous, unedited, earthy, hilarious."

He told mourners about a lunch he once shared in New York with Richards and a group that included comedians Billy Crystal and Robin Williams.

"I thought to myself, I bet this is the only time in their entire lives that Billy Crystal and Robin Williams are the second and third funniest people at the table," he said, drawing chuckles from misty-eyed family members. (Watch Richards make people laugh -- 4:04)

Richards, the Democrat known for her big, frosty white hair and sharp wit, died Wednesday at the age of 73 from esophageal cancer. (Full story)

"In this case, goodbye is also a celebration, because of the big things that Ann Richards did," Clinton said.

A Texas Department of Public Safety honor guard rolled the casket into the Capitol rotunda, followed by Clinton and Richards' daughter, Cecile, as a girls' choir sang a hymn from a gallery above. Across the rotunda, Richards' painting hung next to one of President Bush, her successor as Texas governor, in its place among all their predecessors. Her portrait was draped in black.

Clinton called Richards "Texas on parade."

"For 30-plus years, that is certainly what she was to me and Hillary," he said. "First she was big. Big hair, big bright eyes, big blinding smile. She also had a big heart, big dreams. Big, big dreams."

During her one term as governor from 1991 to 1995 she championed what she called the "New Texas," appointing more women and minorities to state posts than any of her predecessors.

He described the world that Richards wanted for her grandchildren as one "where young girls grew up to be scientists, engineers, police officers and teachers ... where the dreams and the spirit were as big as the sky in her beloved home."

When Clinton finished speaking, Richards' daughter, Ellen, thanked him for "all the great times that you shared with our mom."

Clinton paused for a moment beside the casket, then greeted family members, hugging or shaking hands with each one in attendance. At one point, he bent down to comfort Richards' 8-year-old grandson Wyatt, who broke down in sobs.

Richards is survived by her four children -- Cecile, Daniel, Clark and Ellen Richards -- their spouses and eight grandchildren.


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