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Clinton Eulogy Recalls Friendship With Foster : Funeral: In an emotional service in Little Rock, President praises the strength, accomplishments and steady advice of his aide, an apparent suicide.

July 24, 1993|PAUL RICHTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Presidential aide Vincent W. Foster Jr. was buried Friday after an emotional memorial service in which his childhood friend Bill Clinton praised his strength, accomplishments and steady advice.

In remarks at St. Andrew Cathedral in Little Rock, Clinton told of Foster's life of achievement and noted how the former White House deputy counsel had been praised in an Arkansas newspaper as one of the state's "best and brightest."

But "he was so much more--he was, above all, a friend to us all," Clinton said of Foster, whose death, an apparent suicide, was discovered Tuesday evening in a secluded federal park overlooking the Potomac River near Washington.

Still not fully explained, the death stunned the Clintons, their Arkansas friends and the White House aides who had formed friendships with the reserved 48-year-old lawyer. Foster had worked in Little Rock's Rose Law Firm with Hillary Rodham Clinton, campaigned with Clinton, served as the family lawyer and became second in command at the White House counsel's office last January.

Clinton, his voice thick with emotion, recalled in his 10 minutes of remarks how the two men had met as small boys 42 years ago in Hope when their back yards abutted. The boys played a game in which they threw knives in the ground to see if they would stick.

"The knives didn't stick," Clinton said, "but the friendship did."

To his friends, Foster was always "a great protector," Clinton said. "We could never remember a time when he ever asked us to protect him--it was always the other way around."

Sitting in a front pew of the downtown church were Foster's wife, Lisa, and children, Vincent Foster III, Laura, and Brugh. Near them were Hillary Rodham Clinton, and 13-year-old Chelsea. Although the church is Roman Catholic, Foster was raised a Presbyterian and the service was ecumenical.

Also speaking were the Rev. George Tribou, rector of Little Rock Catholic High School, and Phil Carroll, a member of the Rose Law Firm and godfather to one of the Foster children.

Later, in comments to reporters, Clinton seemed to draw a moral from Foster's death. "We all need to not deaden our senses by working too hard. It undermines how well you work for the people and it obviously undermines the quality of life," he said. "No one will ever know if there was anything any of us could have done to avoid this."

Foster and others in the White House counsel's office have endured some criticism for their role in fumbled appointments and other missteps since the young Administration began. But Clinton emphasized what Foster has done right, including his work on the selection of Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, Supreme Court nominee Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Louis J. Freeh, nominated to be director of the FBI.

Clinton recalled Foster's inspirational words to University of Arkansas Law School graduates at commencement exercises on May 8, when Foster exhorted them to try to do good, as well as to do well, to recognize their own self worth and to put family ahead of work.

"If there is a sadness here today it is because, like all the rest of us . . . Vince sometimes ignored his own advice," Clinton said.

He spoke fondly of Foster's reserved, self-deprecating style and his wry humor. He recalled approaching Foster in 1976 bubbling over with eagerness to persuade him to join his nascent political campaign.

"All right, all right, I'm all fired up," Foster replied dryly.

Clinton spoke of how the Clinton and Foster families often socialized together, spending time at Foster's house some nights "listening to music, drinking spirits and being incredibly silly."

He closed his remembrance with a quote from a 1960s lyric of Leon Russell, a rock musician and songwriter:

"I love you in a place that has no space or time/I love you for my life/You are a friend of mine," Clinton quoted. And he added: "Go well friend, and Godspeed."

Later Friday afternoon Foster was buried at the modest Memory Gardens Cemetery just outside Hope and 105 miles southwest of Little Rock.

Clinton's motorcade headed for the burial service immediately after the funeral. Later, he spent time at the Hope home of Foster's parents, before returning to Little Rock and flying then to Washington.

Though the funeral service was not open to the public, the small St. Andrew Cathedral drew an overflow crowd. In Little Rock's punishing heat and humidity, men stripped off their suit jackets as they waited for the ceremony to begin.

The church is a stone structure with a soaring steeple only two blocks from Clinton's former campaign headquarters and one block from the offices where Clinton organized his transition team.

Among the mourners, in addition to family members, were many members of the Rose Law Firm, officials of the White House and Justice Department and leading lights of politics and law in Arkansas.

Among them were Atty. Gen. Reno, White House Chief of Staff Thomas (Mack) McLarty, White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum, Associate Atty. Gen. Webster Hubbell, Arkansas Democratic Sens. David Pryor and Dale Bumpers, Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, White House Domestic Policy Adviser Carol H. Rasco and White House Personnel Director Bruce Lindsey.

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