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Thousands mourn Carnahan in public wake

October 19, 2000
By: Clayton Bellamy and Lauren Shepherd
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A 73-year-old retired state worker with tears in his eyes, Don Love, was among thousands who walked by the flag-draped coffin of Gov. Mel Carnahan during Thursday's public visitation.

"Mel Carnahan set a higher standard," said Love, who worked under the four governors who preceded Carnahan. "I didn't think it could be done until I saw him do it, in terms of helping kids and protecting women."

Some top Carnahan aides expressed surprise at the size of the crowd that at times numbered hundreds waiting in line for a short walk-by in the governor's mansion.

In the grand entry hallway of the Victorian mansion, the governor's cherry-wood casket was draped with the U.S. flag. Carnahan served in the Air Force. Across the room from the casket hung the official portrait of widow Jean Carnahan.

The visitation started with Mrs. Carnahan and her three surviving children -- two sons and a daughter -- greeting staff of the governor's office outside the mansion's porch. Black bunting hung from the porch.

Mrs. Carnahan and her children hugged many of the staffers who had served her husband for several years.

Her eldest son, Roger, was among those killed in Monday night's plane crash that cost Missouri its governor. Carnahan was traveling to a campaign stop in his tight race for the U.S. Senate.

After the staff, the visitation was opened to the general public. Supporters, state government workers, politicians, and others from across the state walked the flower-lined walkway up to the Victorian mansion.

Visitors, who numbered in the thousands, braved long lines and unusual October heat to pay the governor their respects.

The mansion was open from noon until mid-evening.

Two St. Charles County Emergency Management Agency workers drove two hours to say their final goodbye to Carnahan.

During the flood of 1993, which ravaged St. Charles County, Carnahan came and visited with the people hit by the rising water. To Frank Tripodi and Gene Schwendermann, the workers, that showed Carnahan really cared.

After viewing the casket, which was flanked by a formal military honor guard, visitors left through the dining room. Next to the guest registers were bowls of buckeyes.

In tune with an Ozarks superstition, the Birch Tree-born Carnahan always carried a buckeye in his pocket. He thought it would bring him good luck.

Randy Halsey, a former Jefferson City Councilman, fought back tears while explaining what the governor meant to him.

"In terms of minorities and the underpriveleged, the governor made more top appointments than all the previous governors combined," Halsey said. "The Carnahans were good role models for all people because he didn't wear it on his shoulders. It came from his heart."

JoAnn Radetic, who works of the Department of Natural Resources, waited in line on crutches.

"At first when I heard I felt disbelief and then sadness and then apprehension about what's to come in state government," said Radetic of Washington, Mo. "He'll be remembered as a compassionate person and a good governor."

Mourners left the governor's mansion brandishing tissues and wiping red eyes.

"I've been to the mansion for other occasions," said Julie Youmans, a legislative assistant from Columbia. "Coming back to his home is just a reminder of what an outstanding person he was."

When evening came, lone visitors were replaced by families.

One woman, who asked not to be identified, said her young daughter asked to see the governor. She said her daughter remembered Carnahan from the annual Spooktacular Halloween celebration at the mansion.