In the statuary room of the Capitol this morning, ambassadors, members of congress, dignitaries–and a rock star–joined to celebrate the life of Congressman Tom Lantos, the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman who succumbed to cancer earlier this week.
Secretary Rice spoke early in the service. She was visibly moved as she recalled her long friendship with Congressman Lantos, which stretched back to when she was chancellor of Stanford University. Rice, with Lantos’ opera-signing granddaughter, even performed together in charity benefit at the Kennedy Center a few years ago. Joe Biden, who hired Lantos as a staffer when Biden was a Senator in his early 30s, offered a very personal touch. Biden hired Lantos, but then quickly realized that Lantos should be the person calling the shots. The two developed a close relationship. In fact, at his mentor’s insistence Biden was married at the United Nations Chapel. Biden even brought Lantos on his honeymoon — to Hungary.
Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer, Lantos’ longtime friend Congressman Chris Shays all paid homage to the man, recalling his how his struggle to survive as a Jew in Hungary during the Holocaust shaped his profound commitment to defending human rights across the globe.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livini and Ban Ki Moon also spoke. It is no secret that Congress can sometimes be hard on the United Nations. And in his eulogy, Ban stressed that the United Nations lost a great friend. Ban very eloquently recalled his first meeting with Lantos. The two were having lunch in Lantos’ office, when Lantos turned to Ban and said, “In my office, the United Nations will always have a sanctuary in this building.”
Bono later took the stage. He paid brief tribute to Lantos’ dedication to combating global HIV/AIDS, but then spoke about the relationship between Lantos and his wife, Annette. The two have been married 58 years, and were childhood sweethearts who escaped the Holocaust together. This being Valentine’s Day, Bono offered Annette a serenade and lead the crowd in “All You Need is Love.” Secretary Rice, Ban Ki Moon, and Speaker Pelosi sang along. There was hardly a dry eye to be seen–mine included.
Elie Wiesel gave the final eulogy. The two were friends, said Weisel, but they never socialized. Rather they shared the bond that only two genocide survivors could. When the two met, there was no small talk. It was all business between them–and that business was advancing the cause of human dignity across the globe. Sadly, Lantos passed away before the job was complete. His legacy, though, lives on in the lives he touched and the dignity-affirming legislation he passed.