The notes of “Amazing Grace” rose from Dean Swihart’s saxophone and hung under the golden dome of the Capitol, where people sat drenched in the light of a Washington sunset.
“They asked me, ‘Dean, would like to come read a poem?’” said Swihart, a music teacher. “I said, ‘I don’t read poems, can I play my saxophone?’”
So he brought his sax from the Hoosier State and chose his favorite song to honor the person America knew as Rep. Walorski, but he knew as Jackie.
The ceremony Tuesday night celebrated his wife, an Indiana Republican who died in a car crash in August alongside two of her aides, Zachery Potts and Emma Thomson. It also honored 35 other former members of Congress who have died since last September.
“And what could be more fitting than ‘Amazing Grace’ at a time like this, when we get to share all these wonderful lives?” Swihart asked.
This year’s event, put on by the Association of Former Members of Congress, included remembrances of several Senate giants, like Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Nevada Democrat, who used procedural tools and his talents for horse-trading to help engineer the health care overhaul known as Obamacare, died in December.
Republicans Bob Dole of Kansas, who was the longest serving Senate leader at the time of his retirement, and Orrin Hatch of Utah, one of the most accomplished legislators of his generation, also died in the past 12 months.
“I hope you cherish the fact that the person you remember this evening was granted such a profound privilege and honor,” said Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, who once sat in the chamber herself as a senator from North Carolina. “Bob served in Congress for 35 years, and he never lost his appreciation for the people who sent him here — he even appreciated those who tried to keep him from coming back.”
Both Dole and Reid lay in state under the Capitol Rotunda after their deaths. GOP Rep. Don Young, the House dean who died in March while traveling back to his home state of Alaska, lay in state in Statuary Hall.
It was common for the younger Kildee and the family’s other children to help with campaigns for the elder Kildee, who was sometimes called the “Cal Ripken of Congress” for his more than three decades of House service.
“As young kids, we just assumed that everybody worked on campaigns,” he said. “But let me be clear, we were not volunteers — we were conscripts.”
The annual memorial service was the first held in person since COVID-19 began to spread across the globe. The last two services were held by video, as entry to the Capitol remained limited.
During the pandemic, friends and family have found new ways to mourn their loved ones, but it’s hard to replicate that feeling of community when people are together, said Senate Chaplain Barry Black.
“There’s a Bible verse in Hebrews 10:25 that says, ‘Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some are,’” he said. “I just think there’s something special when you’ve got folks there, and it’s not on Zoom.”
The association keeps a list of former lawmakers and carefully keeps track of when they die. This year’s list ranges from September 2021 to September 2022, and honors the following former lawmakers:
- Todd Akin of Missouri
- Brad Ashford of Nebraska
- Dan Benishek of Michigan
- Clarence “Bud” Brown Jr. of Ohio
- Albert Bustamante of Texas
- Max Cleland of Georgia
- Barbara-Rose Collins of Michigan
- John Cooksey of Louisiana
- Bob Dole of Kansas
- Harris Fawell of Illinois
- Vic Fazio of California
- Ed Foreman of Texas and New Mexico
- George Gekas of Pennsylvania
- Jim Hagedorn of Minnesota
- Orrin Hatch of Utah
- Kaneaster Hodges Jr. of Arkansas
- Larry Hopkins of Kentucky
- Johnny Isakson of Georgia
- Timothy Johnson of Illinois
- Dale Kildee of Michigan
- Bob Krueger of Texas
- Claude “Buddy” Leach of Louisiana
- Jack H. McDonald of Michigan
- Carrie Meek of Florida
- Norm Mineta of California
- Dennis Moore of Kansas
- John Porter of Illinois
- Harry Reid of Nevada
- J. Roy Rowland of Georgia
- Neal Smith of Iowa
- James Stanton of Ohio
- Esteban Torres of California
- Jolene Unsoeld of Washington
- Don Young of Alaska
- Bill Zeliff of New Hampshire
- Jackie Walorski of Indiana and her staffers, Zachery Potts and Emma Thomson