- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2003

Walter E. Washington, the first black to lead a major U.S. city, was eulogized as a man of vision, integrity, compassion and humor yesterday during a funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral in Northwest.

About 1,300 people filed into the Gothic cathedral on an unseasonably warm autumn day to say farewell to the District’s first mayor elected under home rule. Pews quickly filled with top city officials, politicians, educators, physicians and judges, among them D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Rufus B. King.

Former Mayor Marion Barry, accompanied by his former wife, Effie, attended the service, as did former U.S. Sen. Charles S. Robb, Virginia Democrat, and wife Linda Bird and prominent Fairfax developer John “Til” Hazel.

“He was such a warm and gentle man, and I always felt he was a friend to everyone. I remember his ability to bring people together, especially when the city needed it,” said Mr. Robb. “He’s been a friend of my family’s over the years, and all of the accolades paid to him are well-deserved.”

Mr. Washington, who died Monday at age 88, was commissioner mayor in 1968, when President Lyndon B. Johnson ended the commissioner system by appointing him chief officer of the city.

During his appointed term as mayor, Mr. Washington fought for and won home rule for the District and became the city’s first elected mayor under the Home Rule Act of 1974.

“We’ve lost a good human being, humanitarian, public servant and lover of the city and the people,” Mr. Barry said before being seated for the 90-minute service that included the music of Duke Ellington, Mr. Washington’s favorite musician.

The Right Rev. John B. Chane, Episcopal bishop of Washington, officiated over the service, along with the Rev. Bernard Richardson, dean of the Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel at Howard University, and Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington.

Those who paid tribute to Mr. Washington included Mayor Anthony A. Williams, Mr. Washington’s wife, Mary, and daughter Benetta Jules-Rosette. Mr. Williams pledged to continue Mr. Washington’s quest for full congressional representation for city residents.

“I look at the size and diversity of the gathering in this great cathedral, and I feel the impact Mayor Washington had on our city. He touched so many lives in ways we can’t measure, in ways we may never fully comprehend,” Mr. Williams said. “He helped us light the way. With every citizen our city helps, with every job we find for someone in need, with every neighbor we welcome into our home, with every child we educate, we honor Walter Washington.”

Before Mr. Washington was elected, the District was about 70 percent black, but whites held most of the top jobs in the city government. Mr. Washington is credited with promoting blacks through the ranks.

Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert injected a little humor into the service by sharing an anecdote making light of his habit of addressing people of Mr. Washington’s stature with formality.

“One day I was visiting [Mr. Washington] at his home in LeDroit Park … We were having so much fun and I happen to say, ‘Walter, do you remember?’ And, he said, ‘Yes, the mayor does remember.’”

Mr. Washington earned a bachelor’s degree in 1938 and a law degree in 1948 at Howard University.

His widow, Mary, was the last to speak at the funeral.

“Two years ago, after Walter and I attended funeral services of a prominent Washingtonian, he said, ‘Mary, I’m going to tell you what I want.’ He gave me a long list of speakers,” she said. “I want you to know many here today were on Walter’s list.”

A D.C. firetruck, draped in black, bore Mr. Washington’s casket through the city to Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland.

Adrienne T. Washington contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.


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