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Thousands pay tribute to Wellstone

Memorial a campaign rally in late senator's honor

Former President Bill Clinton and other politicians say the pledge of allegiance during a public memorial service.

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Thousands gathered in Minnesota to honor and celebrate the life of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone. CNN's Jonathan Karl reports (October 30)
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Norm Coleman, Minnesota GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate, is facing the challenge of running his campaign while respecting the memory of Sen. Paul Wellstone. CNN's Candy Crowley reports (October 29)
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CNN's Candy Crowley takes a look at Wellstone's political legacy (October 25)
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Born: July 21, 1944, Arlington, Virginia
Wife: Sheila Ison Wellstone
Children: David, Marcia, Mark
Career: Minnesota U.S. Senator, starting 1991; associate professor, political science, 1969-1990

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (CNN) -- Fierce passion, cheers and praise for lives lost filled the basketball arena where thousands came Tuesday night to remember Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minnesota, and those who died with him in a plane crash last week.

At times the memorial sounded like a campaign rally, with friends and family urging voters to continue the legacy of an outspoken liberal who died in the last days of a difficult re-election fight. Wellstone's trademark resolve and love for his state shone through in the eulogies given by his friends and family.

"No one ever wore the title of 'senator' better and used it less," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, one of Wellstone's closest Senate friends, who delivered the last remarks of the night.

People had begun lining up for the memorial hours before it began, filling Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota to capacity once doors were opened and forcing more than 1,000 people to stand outside and watch the speakers on large video screens.

Organizers even had to turn people away from an "overflow area" that had room for 6,000 and quickly became filled.

In all, more than 20,000 people came to remember Wellstone, 58, who died with his wife and daughter and three campaign staffers in an icy crash in northern Minnesota last week. Two pilots also died.

Nearly everyone wore the green color of the Wellstone campaign on buttons that read, "Stand Up, Keep Fighting." While not a campaign slogan, it is the title of a song written for the campaign shortly before Wellstone's death and has become a hopeful theme. That song ended the service.

Others wore buttons with Wellstone's picture or carried glossy black and white photographs with Wellstone's smiling face.

Son: 'It was never about Paul Wellstone'

David Wellstone, one of the senator's two surviving sons, remembered his father's integrity, passion and intensity, and said his father led by example.

Mark Wellstone, who sports the same long, curly hair his father once did, said Wellstone was a selfless man.

"It was never about him," he said. "It was never about Paul Wellstone. It was about the ideal, it was about the dream that he had."

It was the dream of a liberal champion of causes like civil rights, the environment, farmers, minimum wage hikes and health care reform.

In 1991, in his first year in office, Wellstone led a coalition to defeat an energy bill that would have opened Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. He opposed U.S. military action in the Persian Gulf War and criticized President Clinton when he sent troops to Haiti without congressional approval.

People who heard Wellstone speak were not just stirred, said close friend Rick Kahn, but felt compelled to act. "It is not the thought that counts, but the deed," Kahn said, invoking Wellstone's strong, earnest tone.

Wellstone's communications director, Jim Farrell, had said he wanted it to be a "populist memorial" with an informal feel, and it was. Other than family members and Senate colleagues, dignitaries like the Rev. Jesse Jackson came through the arena doors with everyone else.

Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash Friday.
Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash Friday.

In the hours before the memorial, those in the stands bandied beach balls or munched on foil-wrapped hot dogs from the concession stands. Upbeat music filled the hall and many clapped and swayed along.

Nearly half the U.S. Senate turned out, including Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts; Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota; Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia; Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut; and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi.

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura was there along with Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. The former governor of neighboring Wisconsin, Thompson represented the White House at the memorial after the administration's first choice, Vice President Dick Cheney, was asked not to come.

The crowd cheered every time the monitors showed former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York.

Big cheers for Mondale

When former Vice President Walter Mondale entered the arena, the music stopped for a moment and the crowd went wild with applause, cheers and fists in the air in support of the man who would be Wellstone's replacement.

Democratic Party sources said it will be announced Wednesday that Mondale's name will appear on the November 5 ballot and that Mondale will appear before party leaders to launch his abbreviated campaign.

The memorial's tone angered some Republicans, who complained that Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, was booed when he entered the hall.

Mike Erlandson, chairman of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party -- as the Democrats are called in Minnesota -- said Wednesday the boos were "unfortunate and inappropriate," but that the service was "something that was very emotional."

"While it had a little bit of a rally feel, and they were talking about public policy and public policy issues, that was Sen. Wellstone through and through," Erlandson said.

Mourners also paid tribute to Wellstone's wife, Sheila, and daughter, Marcia, who died with him on the plane.

Marcia's brother, Mark, said she died "doing what she loved to do" -- working on their father's campaign -- while her boss at White Bear Lake High School said the Spanish teacher liked making a difference in her students' lives.

"I hope they leave my class knowing how to be good people, knowing how to have fun in life," Larry DeNucci remembered Marcia saying.

"No one ever wore the title of 'senator' better and used it less," said Harkin of his friend Wellstone.

Sheila Wellstone was selfless and nurturing to her many children and grandchildren, son David Wellstone said. Others recalled her as a devoted wife who grew alongside her husband to become an important force in his campaigns, for which her husband admired her greatly.

A clear-thinking balance to a sometimes absent-minded man, said her friend, Connie Lewis, Sheila was "an expert on loving, giving, and being a wife and mom."

Of the three staffers who died in the crash, one was a university professor who had taken a leave of absence to work with Wellstone on this campaign.

Mary McEvoy had optimism, spirit, and energy, said the university's interim president, Robert Bruininks. She was a "hard-nosed and uncompromising researcher" who was nationally known for her work in early childhood and special education.

Will McLaughlin, a young staffer whose father had once worked with Wellstone, was the last of nine children and therefore shared the senator's pluck. He was "having the time of his life" working on Wellstone's campaign, said his brother, David.

The humility and determination of staffer Tom Lapic, said close friend Brian Ahlberg, mirrored Wellstone's commitment to helping people and "allowed Paul to be Paul."

The night began and ended with upbeat music that bookended what former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer called "the historic effort" at putting aside grief to remember those lost.

"It will be," Latimer said, "because Paul Wellstone would not have it any other way."

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