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Stevens remembered as champion of Alaska at his funeral

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Biden: You could always count on Stevens
  • Hundreds turn out to pay their last respects to former Alaska senator
  • Ted Stevens and four others were killed August 9 in a plane crash
  • Vice President Joe Biden was among the dignitaries at his funeral Wednesday
  • "Ted was Alaska," Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski says

(CNN) -- Hundreds of people filled Anchorage Baptist Temple on Wednesday to pay their respects to former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who was overwhelmingly remembered by speakers at the service as a man who embodied the state.

"From the eerie silence of the tundra to the swish of dogsleds in the snow ... these things more than describe Alaska, they define a way of life, and no state has ever had a more fierce defender of that state's way of life than Ted Stevens," said longtime friend and former Senate colleague, Vice President Joe Biden.

Stevens, 86, and four others died August 9 when the plane in which they were flying crashed into the side of a mountain in remote southwestern Alaska.

A photo montage of the former senator opened the service, showing Stevens with his children, fishing in the Alaska wilderness and working for the people of his state. A military band played hymns and such songs as "America (My Country, 'Tis of Thee)."

Video: Ted Stevens' history-making legacy
Video: Remembering Ted Stevens
  • Ted Stevens
  • Alaska

Bagpipers playing "Amazing Grace" signaled the entrance of his casket, draped in an American flag and carried by military servicemen. His wife, Katherine, paused briefly at the casket, placing both hands on it and bowing her head before taking her seat.

In addition to Biden, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye also shared their memories of their colleague and friend, who had served in the Senate for 40 years.

"Ted was Alaska," Murkowski said, "and he will be remembered for all that he built in this state."

"His legacy rests not just with the infrastructure and the programs that he has created, that he built, but really that legacy rests with the lives that he touched," she said.

Her words were echoed by her fellow speakers.

"I have no doubt ... that Alaska is written in Ted's heart," said Biden, referencing a poem by James Joyce.

McConnell, R-Kentucky, said, "it's hard to imagine that any one man ever meant more to any one state than Ted Stevens."

Stevens was the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate's history and a champion for Alaska.

He earned the nickname "Uncle Ted" and a reputation as one of the most effective of all pork-barrel lawmakers, a senator who funneled billions of federal dollars to his home state.

His footprint can be seen all over Alaska. In Anchorage, where most people fly into the state, a large sign proclaims, "Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport."