‘We build upon each other’: Memorial for lawmakers who died continues in pandemic

Among the 33 being remembered are Alcee Hastings, Ron Wright and Mike Enzi

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., is seen in the Capitol complex tunnels in December. Enzi will be remembered as part of a service for former lawmakers who died in the past year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., is seen in the Capitol complex tunnels in December. Enzi will be remembered as part of a service for former lawmakers who died in the past year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 12, 2021 at 7:26pm

Putting aside tense partisan skirmishes in Congress, a bipartisan group of lawmakers will speak Wednesday at a virtual memorial to remember former House and Senate members who died in the past year.

Among the 33 who died are Reps. Alcee L. Hastings and Ron Wright, who both kept working as members of the House until the end of their lives, and recently retired Sen. Michael B. Enzi.  

Wright, a Texas Republican, was being treated for lung cancer and died at age 67 after contracting COVID-19. Hastings, a Florida Democrat, died at 84 after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer. Enzi, a Wyoming Republican who left the Senate in January, died at age 77 in July from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident.

The audience will hear from Rep. John Sarbanes, who will talk about the death of his father, the famously “low-key” Maryland Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes. Also set to appear are Alaska GOP Rep. Don Young (the current longest-serving member of the House), Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer.

Hosted by the Association of Former Members of Congress, the event is fully virtual this time around, like countless other memorial services during the pandemic. The annual tradition, now entering its sixth year, may expand its reach that way, said Haley LaTourette, FMC’s program manager.

“This is a chance for them to feel like they’re part of the ceremony,” she said of family members and retired members of Congress around the country who may not be able to travel.  

The organization keeps a list of former lawmakers and carefully keeps track of when they die. This year’s list ranges from September 2020 to September 2021. 

Missouri Republican Todd Akin, who died in early October, will be part of next year’s memorial, LaTourette said.  

“Everything we do is completely bipartisan, so this is another chance for everyone to come together regardless of party label politics, ideology, any of that, and really just honor these folks, and the years that they dedicated,” she said. 

The service will also include footage of a recent tree planting on the Capitol grounds, dedicated to all former members who died. It’s a physical place people can visit to remember the lives of their colleagues and loved ones.

House Chaplain Margaret G. Kibben, who will deliver a closing prayer during the program, said the annual event is a chance to pause and reflect on the long history of the congressional community.

“There’s a tendency to forget that we build upon each other,” she said. “These memorial services remind us that we stand on the shoulders of the people who have gone before us.”

Gathering together to grieve is important for Congress and for everyone, Kibben said, even if it happens virtually. 

“The reality of life is that bad things happen and we grieve,” she said. “But from that grief, depending on how we process it, we actually find ways to tap into resources we didn’t know we had both within us and around us.”

Virtual gatherings can sometimes feel isolating, but Kibben said that shouldn’t stop Congress from celebrating the public service of members who died.   

“We are intended to be in community, caring and encouraging and supporting one another, and we shouldn’t let anything prevent us from doing that,” she said. “If it means a virtual platform, well then, so be it.” 

The event begins at 5:30 p.m., Eastern time, and will honor the following former lawmakers:

Edward Beard, D-R.I., served in the House from 1975 to 1981.

James Bilbray, D-Nev., served in the House from 1987 to 1995.

Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., served in the House from 1983 to 2007.

Bill Brock, R-Tenn., served in the House from 1963 to 1971 and the Senate from 1971 to 1977.

Sonny Callahan, R-Ala., served in the House from 1985 to 2003.

William F. Clinger, R-Pa., served in the House from 1979 to 1997.

John B. Conlan, R-Ariz., served in the House from 1973 to 1977.

Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., served in the Senate from 1997 to 2021.

Elizabeth Furse, D-Ore., served in the House from 1993 to 1999.

David H. Gambrell, D-Ga., served in the Senate from 1971 to 1972.

Mike Gravel, D-Alaska, served in the Senate from 1969 to 1981.

Alcee L. Hastings, D-Fla., served in the House from 1993 to 2021.

Earl Hutto, D-Fla., served in the House from 1979 to 1995.

Roger W. Jepsen, R-Iowa, served in the Senate from 1979 to 1985.

David K. Karnes, R-Neb., served in the Senate from 1987 to 1989.

Steven T. Kuykendall, R-Calif., served in the House from 1999 to 2001.

Robert J. Lagomarsino, R-Calif., served in the House from 1974 to 1993.

Carl Levin, D-Mich., served in the Senate from 1979 to 2015.

Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., served in the House from 1979 to 2013.

Paul Mitchell, R/I-Mich., served in the House from 2017 to 2021.

Walter F. Mondale, D-Minn., served in the Senate from 1964 to 1976.

Mike McCormack, D-Wash., served in the House from 1971 to 1981.

Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., served in the House from 1991 to 2009.

Buddy Roemer, D-La., served in the House from 1981 to 1988. (later became a Republican)

Carlos A. Romero Barceló, D-P.R., served in the House from 1993 to 2001.

Donald H. Rumsfeld, R-Ill., served in the House from 1963 to 1969.

Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., served in the House from 1971 to 1977 and the Senate from 1977 to 2007.

Bobby Schilling, R-Ill., served in the House from 2011 to 2013.

Adlai Stevenson III, D-Ill., served in the Senate from 1970 to 1981.

John W. Warner, R-Va., served in the Senate from 1979 to 2009.

James Weaver, D-Ore., served in the House from 1975 to 1987.

Lester Wolff, D-N.Y., served in the House from 1965 to 1981.

Ron Wright, R-Texas, served in the House from 2019 to 2021.