Harry Reid fought for, loved the needy, say Joe Biden, Barack Obama, President Ballard at funeral
‘For Harry, the whole point of holding office, the whole point of wielding power, was to actually get things done on behalf of those you represent,’ Obama says
LAS VEGAS — Harry Reid was remembered at his funeral Saturday by U.S. presidents, friends and family members for using his immense political power to fight for the needy and vulnerable, a practice rooted in his upbringing and his Latter-day Saint beliefs and scripture.
“For Harry, the whole point of holding office, the whole point of wielding power, was to actually get things done on behalf of those you represent,” former U.S. President Barack Obama said. “... Few people have done more for this state, this country than this driven, brilliant, sometimes irascible, deeply good man from Searchlight, Nevada.”
Born in that tiny town to a miner and a brothel’s laundress, Reid was an undersized boxer before he became Nevada’s most powerful political son, rising to become the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate. Reid died Dec. 28 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 82.
Speakers at the memorial service described a man who embodied the state’s slogan, “Battle Born,” which is printed on the state flag and emblazoned on a billboard overlooking the site of Saturday’s service, the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
“His toughness was distinctly Nevadan. His story was distinctly American,” said U.S. President Joe Biden, who arrived here Friday on Air Force One after visiting victims of the Colorado wildfires.
Reid and Biden were friends for 50 years and worked together closely during Obama’s presidency. Biden ordered all flags on federal property lowered to half staff on Saturday to honor Reid.
“Harry Reid was a man of faith — in word and in deed,” said President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Harry cared for (those Jesus Christ called) ‘the least of these’ — those who were less fortunate, hungry, sick or those who had any number of challenges.”
Reid both taught the principle well and lived it, said President Ballard, who was one of Reid’s spiritual advisers and said Reid was a devout Latter-day Saint.
He noted that Reid told BYU students in 2007 to “never forget the clarion call of (the Book of Mormon prophet) King Benjamin: ‘When you are in the service of your fellow beings you are only in the service of your God.’”
He exemplified that phrase, said President Ballard, who called Reid a dear friend.
“Of Harry Reid’s religious leaders, many have commented that he was the best minister in their congregations,” President Ballard said. “Even during his years as one of the nation’s most powerful political leaders, he always made time to minister ‘to the least of these,’ one by one,” and did so “because of his faith in Jesus Christ.”
“He was tough as nails, a fighter to his core and one of the most compassionate individuals you could ever imagine,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “He never forgot where he came from. He always stuck up for the little guy. I believe Harry drew a lot of that compassion from his faith.”
Biden said his faith and Reid’s helped them become great friends.
“A Catholic boy from Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the Latter-day Saint from Searchlight,” Biden said. “Harry would always have your back, like the guys I grew up with. Harry had my back and I had his.”
Biden and Obama also praised Reid for his work on behalf of others, as well as his effectiveness and for old-school qualities and values born with him in Searchlight.
Reid told Obama that as a boy, he didn’t know what health care was. When his brother broke his leg, he stayed in bed until it healed. When his father needed a tooth pulled, he yanked it out himself.
“He understood why the work we did mattered,” Obama said. “... When Harry did everything he could to pass the (Affordable Care Act), he didn’t do it to burnish his own legacy. He did it for the people back home and families like his, who needed somebody looking out for them when nobody else was.”
Often, that required a fighting spirit, the two presidents said.
When Obama questioned a deal Reid would make to get votes, Reid told him that while the president knew health care policy, he understood the Senate.
“He was right ...,” Obama said. “Without Harry, we would not have passed the Recovery Act, helping to prevent another Great Depression. Without Harry would not have saved people’s jobs, helped people stay in their homes. ... Without Harry, we would not have passed Wall Street Reform, reining in some of the worst abuses of the financial industry. Without Harry, there would be No Affordable Care Act.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “To observe Harry lead and legislate was to watch a master at work.”
Biden noted that Reid also helped stop Nevada’s Yucca Mountain from being a nuclear waste site, a decision appreciated in Utah and other states through which the waste would have traveled.
“His spirit’s always gonna burn as bright as the desert sun,” Biden said. “He was a plainspoken, honorable, decent, brave, unyielding man.”
Reid is survived by five children, 19 grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. His children described his final week as difficult.
“We are grateful he is at rest and no longer in pain,” a granddaughter said in a prayer to open the funeral. “Bless Poppy to know that we love him.”
The children said Reid was an attentive father who liked to play hide and seek with his young children and take them to Baskin Robbins almost every night in the summer. He was an example of charity, a mentor and best friend to them and taught them well, they said.
Near the end, the children said, he talked little, but when his son Rory asked him if he was scared, he “said a loud, powerful, ‘No,’” son Key said. Then Rory asked if he was worried about his wife of 62 years. “Yes,” he said.
“He never made us share his time and attention with anyone, and I will be forever grateful for that,” said his daughter, Lana Reid Barringer. “Nobody loved me the way my dad loved me. He was a wonderful father who loved me unconditionally, and he always made me and my brothers his priority. ... I am grateful families are forever.”
Obama, President Ballard and others laughed about Reid’s practice of hanging up calls abruptly when a conversation was done.
“Did my dad ever hang up the phone on you without saying goodbye?” his son Leif said. “Raise your hands. Sometimes he even left you talking a few minutes before realizing he’d hung up.”
He said the children named the practice with “a verb we call Harry Reid-ing.”
Outside the funeral, which lasted more than two hours and 20 minutes, supporters, and protesters gathered in chilly morning shade under a perfectly clear blue sky.
About 20 Donald Trump supporters protested against Biden, Obama and other Democrats, chanted near TV news reporters doing standups and argued with residents of condominiums across the street.
About a dozen people posted signs of gratitude for Reid’s service.
“Harry Reid put Nevada on the map,” said Las Vegas resident Shelbie Swartz, who posted signs on temporary metal barriers across the street. “There are a ton of people who are politically active because Harry Reid showed us a little kid from Searchlight can go on to do great things.”
The speakers said Reid would hate to see everyone gathered to speak of him.
“In a town obsessed with appearances, Harry had a real vanity deficit,” Obama said. “He didn’t like phonies, he didn’t like grandstanding.”
“He was all Searchlight and no spotlight,” Biden said.
Obama said he could never fully repay his debt to Reid for being among the very first to suggest he run for president, and for sticking by him when his polling numbers were low and others would not.
He shared a story of a White House dinner late in his administration that included the Obamas, Bidens, Schumers, Pelosis and Reids. Reid was his normal reticent self until the end.
“I’m really proud of what I’ve done with this president, and I love this guy,” Reid said to the group.
“Then, without any warning, he leaned over and kissed me on the cheek,” Obama said. “I think it’s fair to say we were all surprised.”
Saturday, Obama returned the sentiment again.
“Goodbye Harry,” he said. “Thank you for everything. The senate and the country benefited from your leadership. Sure did love you back.”
The funeral included musical performances by Carole King and “The Killers” frontman Brandon Flowers, both of whom became Reid’s friends. Flowers sat at a piano and played and sang “The Killers” song, “Be Still.” At the end, he led the congregation in singing the Nevada state song, “Home Means Nevada.”
Sen. Reid’s casket will be flown to Washington, D.C., where he will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol. A ceremony will be held there on Wednesday. Then Reid will be laid to rest in Searchlight.
Saturday’s memorial service can be seen on YouTube.
Here are President Ballard’s full remarks:
President and Dr. Biden, Vice President Harris and Mr. Emhoff, former President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, and other distinguished friends, I greet you warmly as we gather to honor and remember our friend and colleague, Harry Reid.
To Landra, Lana, Rory, Leif, Josh and Key: It is an honor for me to be invited to speak as we pay tribute to your beloved husband, father, grandfather, and our dear friend. I know Harry loves each and every one of you deeply.
I bring the love of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Harry and Landra joined our church soon after their marriage at age 19, and they have been faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, with a firm belief that we are all brothers and sisters — children of a loving Father in Heaven.
In my calling as an apostle of Jesus Christ, I had many personal visits with my friend Harry. We would counsel together and share personal experiences of faith. In more recent years, we shared a similar plight. We each lost sight in one eye at about the same time; he in his right eye and me in my left. We used to remind each other that we could walk down the street, arm in arm. He could help me see things on the left and I could help him see things on the right!
At times, Sen. Reid, he really was all business. When he would call, the conversation was usually quick and to the point. And when our conversation was over, I don’t ever remember him saying goodbye. The phone clicked, and the line was dead. That was Harry Reid. This morning, as I was with his family, I was finally able to say to my dear friend, Goodbye.
But there was another side to Harry. From his humble beginnings in Searchlight, Nevada, to his eventual prominence as a world leader, Harry Reid was a man of faith — in word and in deed.
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ taught: Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Harry cared for the least of these — those who were less fortunate, hungry, sick or those who had any number of challenges.
Sen. Reid was also a great teacher of this principle. On one occasion when speaking to students at the Brigham Young University he taught about his conviction for service. He said: Many have chosen to pursue an educational direction pointed toward a lucrative field. ... There is nothing wrong with seeking a career that will bring you financial success. But never forget the clarion call of (the Book of Mormon prophet) King Benjamin: ‘When you are in the service of your fellow beings you are only in the service of your God.’ My dear friend Harry lived what he taught.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we strive to visit and care for the individual needs of others.
When we minister in this way, we are representing Jesus Christ and acting as his agents to watch over, lift and strengthen those around us. Of Harry Reid’s religious leaders, many have commented that he was the best minister in their congregations. Even during his years as one of the nation’s most powerful political leaders, he always made time to minister to the least of these, one by one.
Because of his faith in Jesus Christ, he never forgot to reach out to the one.
To you, Landra, and to your family, we have the assurance that Harry has returned to the God who gave us life and awaits his joyful reunion with you after this life. And through the perfect and eternal Atonement of Jesus Christ, you and your family can be reunited. I share my love for you and my witness as an apostle of the Lord, Jesus Christ, that this is true, and I do so in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.