Jack Kemp Remembered for His Passion, Ideas, and American Dream

A diverse crowd at the National Cathedral remembers his passion, ideas, and American Dream.

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By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog

I'm just back from Jack Kemp's funeral in a standing-room-only Washington National Cathedral. It was official Washington at its best—not one but two busloads of congressmen and senators arrived from Capitol Hill, current and former Cabinet members, columnists, think tank types, and former members of the White House press corps all packed in next to each other.

But it wasn't all old white guys. There were plenty of kids—the Kemps have 17 grandchildren of all ages, some asleep in adults' arms, others with boyfriends in tow. The Howard University choir sang "Thank You Jesus" before the most diverse crowd I've ever seen at a Washington funeral (unfortunately I've been to a few over the years).

There were people in wheelchairs, blind people, people with service dogs, people of every faith and many races. I could see many yarmulkes on heads in front of me, as we listened to a Presbyterian service led by the Episcopal bishop of Washington.

Jimmy Kemp, his youngest son, listed Jack Kemp's passions—a long list that started with football and ended with the gold standard, and then said that actually, his dad's real passion was ... passion. That got a big laugh and applause. Jeff Kemp said his dad always told him the best was yet to come, whether he was talking about his kids or his country. (Jeff also said his dad came to every football game he ever played in, unlike his brother Jimmy, who went to a few games alone. He played soccer.)

Chuck Colson, the former Nixon aide who served time in prison for Watergate and then founded Prison Ministries, gave a great eulogy. "Jack Kemp embodied the American Dream, in all respects," he began, and recapped a life filled with ideas, exuberance, and dedication to helping those on the margins of society. He asked himself why Jack Kemp never made it to the White House. Why not? Two reasons, Colson said. First, Kemp could never run an attack ad against anyone, and "how do you get into the White House without running attack ads?" And second, he felt that Jack Kemp could never compromise when it came to fixing injustice in the world. In the end, he found Kemp's greatest attribute to be his courage—both in life and in the way he faced his own death.

"Jack Kemp was indomitable, as few of us are."

We're all poorer now that he's gone.

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    • Mary Kate Cary

      Mary Kate Cary is a former White House speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. She currently writes speeches for political and business leaders, and is a contributing editor for U.S. News & World Report.