Former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) was remembered by loved ones Tuesday as a man of independence, virtue and influence, with well over 1,000 people, including Vice President Joe Biden, filling a suburban Philadelphia synagogue for his funeral.
Har Zion Temple in Lower Merion Township's Penn Valley held the 90-minute ceremony before Specter, who died Sunday at 82 in his Philadelphia home, was to be buried in Huntington Valley. Pallbearers wheeled his American flag-draped casket out of the temple as Frank Sinatra's "My Way" played.
Before the funeral, the Specter family greeted a steady stream of mourners that began pouring in more than two hours early. Many of those who waited were heard talking politics, as might be expected at the funeral of a career senator and prosecutor.
Biden arrived in a motorcade just before the ceremony—skipping planned campaign trips to Colorado and Nevada, he said.
Wearing a dark suit and yarmulke, the vice president spoke, sometimes sadly and sometimes with relish and humor, about his longtime friend and fellow senator, remembering a man who strived to do what he considered the right thing ahead of what was expedient or partisan.
"There's a saying, 'A friend is someone who walks in when others are walking out.' Arlen always walked into my life, at moments that had great consequence for me, good and bad," the vice president said. "We've been through a lot of battles together. ... I've had no greater privilege than serving with and being a friend of Arlen Specter."
Biden, a longtime Delaware senator and Scranton native, joked about feeling confounded at how much Specter managed to enlist his help with legislation to aid Pennsylvania.
"He'd say, 'Joe, remember, you're Pennsylvania's third senator,' and like a sucker I bought it," Biden said as the audience laughed. "I'm glad Delaware never fully understood."
Specter served as both a Democrat and Republican at different times in his career. Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and Democrats U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady of Philadelphia and former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut also attended.
Another Democrat, former Gov. Ed Rendell, was among friends and colleagues who joined Biden in speaking before members of Specter's family took the podium.
"He worked tirelessly to be the best grandfather he could be, and he succeeded," said Sylvie Specter, one of his four granddaughters.
"He was fiercely independent. He lived life the way he wanted," said Shanin Specter, one of his two sons and a resident of Gladwyne in Lower Merion.
Shanin Specter described all the accomplishments and initiatives his father is "survived by" beyond his family, including his support of cancer research. He fought the disease several times.
"Cancer claimed him, as it has too many. But one day it will be solved, and when it is, Arlen Specter will be counted among the righteous who made it happen," his son said.
Several speakers referred to some of Specter's most famous political roles: serving on the Warren Commission that investigated President John F. Kennedy's assassination, questioning Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court confirmation hearing, and voting for President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package in 2009, a move that preceded his switch from the Republican Party to the Democrats.
"Arlen knew when he voted for stimulus that he was probably signing his political death warrant," Rendell said. Specter lost his final primary in 2010 as a Democrat.
Speakers also mentioned his love for the game of squash and for the Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies. Rendell, a fellow rabid sports fan, former Specter employee and longtime friend, stopped speaking several times as emotion overcame him. He recalled a hospital visit after Specter's third and final cancer diagnosis.
"He said, 'Rendell, tell these nurses that I should be allowed to walk. I need exercise! I shouldn't be confined to this chair!'" the former governor said. "I was so exuberant. I was sure he would beat it again. ... There are some things that even the most robust human spirit can't conquer. But Arlen conquered everything he could."
Rendell said he liked imagining Specter and fellow Pennsylvania statesman Ben Franklin meeting up in heaven: "It would be interesting to see who was getting a word in edgewise."