Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, said his friend, retiring Rep. Morris Udall, D-Ariz., would have complained it was too much like a funeral for the living.
But Owens organized a special session in the House Thursday for members to give speeches honoring Udall, who is retiring this weekend because of Parkinson's disease and slow recovery from injuries from a serious fall.The session attracted comments from House Speaker Tom Foley, Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, Minority Leader Robert Michel and others - but Owens led off because of his close friendship with Udall, who could not attend personally.
"Mo Udall called me his bishop, as well as his friend. Our common Mormon heritage and small-town upbringing did provide a unique bond, I suppose, but in a much larger sense so did our common political philosophy," Owens told the House.
"No higher honor ever came to me than the opportunity to help officiate two years ago when Mo married Norma Gilbert, sharing that responsibility with Dr. James Ford, the House chaplain."
Owens also noted that Udall - whom Owens first met when Owens was the Western states coordinator for Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign - traveled to Utah to help Owens in each of his House, Senate and gubernatorial campaigns.
Owens said Udall spent 30 years in the House as "a crusading and controversial idealogue who challenged its systems and perks, yet became one of its more productive and creative legislators, and finished his service without any enemy, thousands of devoted friends and millions of admirers."
Owens said he especially admires Udall's wit - and recounted his favorite anecdote demonstrating it. "It's retelling on the floor of the House may challenge established rules (about use of strong language), but if it does, so be it. Because it will thereby, coincidentally, illustrate Mo's belief that House rules should be periodically challenged and tested and improved."
Owens lamented, "History will record that had 15,000 voters in five primary states voted for Mo rather than Jimmy Carter, the history of this country and, indeed, of the world could have been very different."
He added, "But for his illness, Mo would probably have run for president in 1984, and in this member's view, would have been a formidable candidate."
Owens concluded, "His has been a formidable and unsurpassed contribution to our national well-being, and all his friends - and that's everyone in the House and the Senate - wish him well in his retirement years."