CARBONDALE, Ill. — Former Sen. Paul Simon was honored Sunday in a memorial service filled with dignitaries who paid tribute to the popular, low-key senator as a tireless advocate for the oppressed.
Simon's plain wooden casket -- topped by his grandchildren's artwork -- rested in Southern Illinois University's sports arena, where more than 3,500 people attended the service.
Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy compared the fellow Democrat to his brother Robert.
"Paul Simon had that quality of moral courage in abundance," Kennedy said from the flower-covered stage. "He couldn't have cared less about the games of politics; that's why he was successful in politics."
Former President Clinton, originally scheduled to speak, sent his regrets after bad weather grounded his plane.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich linked Simon to Illinois, where the son of Lutheran missionaries first moved as a 19-year-old.
"He may have been born in Oregon, but he was raised on the values of the heartland of Illinois," Blagojevich said.
Simon, 75, died Tuesday in Springfield after suffering complications from heart surgery.
Years ago, he told his family he wanted a low-key church funeral that didn't focus on him too much. Instead, mourners at the musical, prayerful and emotional service hailed him as a friend of people in need and a decent man even to his adversaries.
When then-Sen. Jesse Helms once opposed a judicial candidate that Simon had endorsed, Simon irked colleagues by lecturing them on the GOP conservative's good qualities, said retired federal judge Abner Mikva, the only speaker Sunday who Simon had specifically requested to speak at his funeral.
"He never missed an opportunity to support his causes," Mikva said, even in the final days of his life, as he touted Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean from his hospital bed.
Simon's son, Martin, 39, spoke about how his dad raised him with a soft hand and firm principles. "He didn't teach me to be a good person; he showed me," Martin Simon said.