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"Mel" Carnahan

1934 - 2000

Former Govenor of Missouri


Gov. Mel Carnahan was a member of Abou Ben Adhem Temple, Springfield, Mo.

President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore were among thousands of mourners gathered at the Missouri Capitol grounds Friday at a memorial service for Gov. Mel Carnahan, who died Monday in a plane crash.

The crowd of citizens, many dressed in black, hushed as the caisson carrying Carnahan's flag-draped coffin slowly made its way through the streets of Jefferson City toward the capitol grounds. Also present was Republican Sen. John Ashcroft, who was being challenged for re-election by the two-term Democratic governor, as well as a number of members of Congress and southern governors.

" We are profoundly honored to be here, and we come out of respect for the work that Mel Carnahan did for the people of Missouri, the example he set for the nation, the genuine friendship he showed to us," Clinton told the mourners. "I love the guy."

Carnahan, 66, his son Roger, nicknamed "Randy," 44, and one of his closest advisors, Chris Sifford, 37, perished Monday night in the crash of the younger Carnahan's private plane outside of St. Louis.

" For eight years, he has been my friend and my partner," said Clinton, who entered the White House in 1992, the same year Carnahan became Missouri's chief executive. "In so many ways he was a magnificent governor. I suspect only those who have worked with him across a wide range of issues can know just how good he was."

Carnahan's wife Jean greeted the president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, along with Gore and his wife Tipper, at the governor's mansion early Friday as the funeral procession prepared for its journey to the state Capitol grounds.

To the march of slow and steady drumbeats, she walked behind the casket with her children and grandchildren, followed by Carnahan's successor, Gov. Roger Wilson. The Clintons and Gores also followed a few steps behind. A riderless black horse with its boots backward in the stirrups, symbol of a fallen warrior, was also part of the procession.

" I thought when we marched behind the casket today and the magnificent horse with the boots turned backwards in the stirrups, that in a way it was fitting that our friend Mel died in the saddle with his boots on, fighting for the causes he championed," Clinton said.

The memorial service, unprecedented in state history, was held under sunny autumn skies and drew thousands of mourners' hours before it was scheduled to begin. Midway through the service, Carnahan's daughter Robin gave a eulogy on behalf of the family. "I'm going to speak to you as Mel's daughter," began Robin Carnahan, who recalled her father's daily admonition about keeping wood on the fire on cold winter mornings. "Dad, I promise we won't let the fire go out," she said, holding back tears.

In addition to Clinton, former U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton, D-Missouri, and the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver, the former mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, were among the politicians who delivered remembrances.

" Politics is the art of self-government and like his father before him, Mel devoted much of his life to that art. He knew that if good people do not study politics... government will be abandoned to people of lesser motives," said Eagleton. Visibly shaking as he closed his brief eulogy, Eagleton said that the late Missouri governor will be remembered above all as a "gentleman and a gentle man."

A day earlier, more than 8,000 of Eagleton's fellow Missourians filed solemnly passed Carnahan's solid cherry wood casket, draped in an American flag, as his body lay in state at the governor's mansion. Elsewhere in the state, residents flocked to local funeral homes to sign register books that will be delivered to Mrs. Carnahan.

Carnahan, locked in an extremely close Senate race with his Republican rival, was headed to a campaign fund-raiser late Monday when his twin-engine Cessna 335 plane crashed shortly after take off from an airport near St. Louis.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators said that the pilot, Roger Carnahan, sought permission from air traffic controllers to change direction because he was having trouble with the artificial horizon used to maintain level flight. Minutes later, air traffic control lost contact with the plane, as it plummeted 3,200 feet before disappearing from radar. The crash, which occurred in foggy and rainy conditions, sent Missourians into an immediate state of shock and tears.

The governor's wife will bury her husband and son Randy in their hometown of Rolla during a private ceremony Saturday. Services will be held for Sifford, a longtime Carnahan advisor and aide, on Sunday in the town of Puxico.

Carnahan's Senate race against Ashcroft had been expected to be close, and was regarded as one of the Democratic Party's best chances to pick up a seat in the Republican-dominated Senate.

Carnahan started his career as a municipal judge in Rolla, then won a state House seat. He practiced law, but got back into politics with a 1980 victory for state treasurer. Carnahan later served as lieutenant governor for four years before winning back-to-back terms as governor in 1992 and 1996.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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