Lantos Remembered for Humanitarian Efforts, Love of Family
“All you need is love.”
This was the legacy of Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) that echoed through the Capitol on Thursday morning as U2 lyricist and humanitarian Bono led colleagues, family and friends of the 14-term Congressman in song.
Gatherers filled Statuary Hall to remember Lantos — who died Monday at the age of 80 of complications from esophageal cancer — as a man who loved his country, the ideals of freedom and justice and, above all, his family.
“His family was his light,” said Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), a longtime friend and colleague. “Literally, there was a sort of radiation of joy you felt [when he talked about his family].”
The service was marked by diverse and distinguished speakers, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel, Foreign Minister of Israel Tzipi Livni and Rabbi Arthur Schneier.
Many of the speakers addressed Lantos’ unwavering commitment to abating human oppression and suffering at any cost.
“I saw him speak truth to power — to presidents, to prime ministers, to kings,” Pelosi said. “And I saw him received with the greatest respect and dignity.”
Lantos, who was born near Budapest, Hungary, and escaped concentration camps twice before joining forces resisting the Nazis during World War II, dedicated his life to leading a passionate fight against suffering and injustice.
He also was the co-chairman and founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and worked to address global challenges such as the spread of AIDS and the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
“He leaves a profound legacy of ideals and boundless love for his country and the world,” said Ki-moon, adding that Lantos’ ideals were in keeping with the founding principles of the United Nations.
But above all, Lantos was deeply committed to ensuring a bright future for his 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“We would give anything for one of those infamous hugs or kisses,” said Chelsea Hedquist, who spoke of her grandfather’s deep investment in the lives of family members. He dispelled advice on everything from career paths to college classes, she said.
Lantos’ daughter, Katrina Swett, spoke of the joy her father felt in watching his grandchildren grow. Her father, she said, loved music, particularly folk songs from his native Hungary and Broadway scores.
Knowing this, his grandchildren have taken to replacing the lyrics of popular show tunes with self-composed ballads about their grandparents’ life. On Lantos’ 75th birthday, they performed “If I Were the Chairman,” an adaptation of Fiddler on The Roof’s “If I Were a Rich Man,” in honor of his position as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Swett said she believed Lantos’ love of musicals stemmed from his belief in spreading messages of love, optimism and truth.
“I do wish there could have been a few more acts in the play, a few more songs, a few more chapters in the script,” she said.
Though the Congressman’s death could be seen as a great setback to the causes for which he fought, those who knew him said they trusted his spirit will be embodied by the work of others.
“At the end, Tom said, ‘Life is like a wonderful vacation … but like all vacations,’ he said, ‘there must be an end and we must move on,’” said Annette Lantos, the Congressman’s wife of 58 years. “I do not believe in death, I believe in different forms of life … The love Tom and I shared for 70 years is alive and continues to sustain me.”
Friends and colleagues said the next chapter in Lantos’ story may be to ensure his legacy lives on.
“We have to pledge to continue,” Schneier said during the benediction. “To make sure the seeds he planted will bear fruit in a better world of peace and justice for all.”