Sen. Orrin G. Hatch honored his decades-long friendship with champion boxer Muhammad Ali Friday, delivering the eulogy at Ali’s funeral in Louisville, Kentucky.
“He was caring as a father, a husband, a brother, and a friend,” Hatch said. “Indeed, it is as a personal friend that I witnessed Ali’s greatness for myself.”
Hatch said the pair met 28 years ago when Ali surprisingly dropped by Hatch’s office. They remained close friends ever since.
On the surface, the friendship between Hatch, a Republican senator from Utah and a Mormon, and Ali, an African-American champion boxer and a Muslim, seemed unlikely. But Hatch noted they were both religious and grew up in poor families.
“The friendship we developed was, I think, puzzling to many people, especially those who saw only our differences,” Hatch noted. “But where others saw difference, Ali and I saw kinship.”
In Louisville, Hatch recounted several memories of Ali, who died last week. Ali had suffered from Parkinson’s disease.
Hatch recalled Ali joining him on the campaign trial, helping charm a radio host who often criticized the Utah Republican, and visiting a children’s hospital, where the boxer lit up the room.
“Ali held those kids and looked into their eyes., They would grin from ear to ear. These were kids that never smiled,” Hatch said.
Ali proclaimed himself “The Greatest,” but Hatch said Ali’s battle with Parkinson’s showed the greatness of God. Hatch said Ali’s struggle with the disease demonstrated that “we are all dependent on God’s grace.”
“Ali believed this himself,” Hatch said. “He once told me, ‘God gave me this condition to remind me always that I am human and that only he is the Greatest.'”