Former Vice President Al Gore was among those who honored the late Secretary of State Warren Christopher at a memorial service at Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles Monday. Gore called Christopher “one of the great statesmen of our era” and “an extraordinary man of integrity.”
In a testament to the wide respect for Christopher, secretaries of state Madeleine Albright, who served under President Clinton, and Condoleezza Rice, who served under President Bush, attended. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent word she was forced to miss the service to attend an emergency meeting on Libya in London.
Christopher, who died March 18 of cancer, secured freedom for the American hostages in Iran during the Carter Administration and helped broker Bosnian peace.
Gore said it was Christopher who made promotion of human rights around the world American policy.
Strobe Talbott, who advised Christopher at the State Department, said he made a “substantial, enduring and underappreciated contribution to world peace.”
The chairman of O’Melveny and Myers A.B. Culvahouse, his voice cracking, called Christopher “the heart and soul” of the firm. Christopher was with O’Melveny for six decades, and served as its chair.
Culvahouse said his old friend was mostly circumspect and subtle in offering sage advice, but could be direct. “Chris once told me I was speaking more clearly than I was thinking,” Culvahouse said with a smile.
Former governors Gray Davis and Pete Wilson attended the service, as did LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. Christopher was instrumental in pushing for police reforms after the Rodney King beating.
Christopher’s four children also took the stage at the memorial, where a giant photo of their father was flanked by an American flag and burning long-stemmed candle.
“He was just our dad, and a really, really great dad,” Thomas Christopher said. He recalled great dinner talks and thoughtful walks on the beach in Santa Barbara.
“He loved us unconditionally,” he said, and was “the best advisor and confidant a kid could have.”
Recipients of the Christopher Scholarship also attended the memorial. The money goes to promising sophomores in high school whose families have little money. But it involves much more than money. Christopher made it a point to get to know each of the recipients and to personally encourage them.
“He told me he had great expectations,” Norma Sanchez said after the service. “And to work hard and to give back” to the community. She said she’d receive handwritten holiday notes from him and occasionally speak on the phone. He’d always ask about her family.
Sanchez, 30, is in medical school in part because of his help and advice.
When Anne Young Kim won a scholarship, she wondered “what is this former secretary of state doing near me?” She said she had many family challenges, and his encouragement “gave me belief in something beyond my circumstances.” Kim, who won the scholarship in 2002, now works with community health councils in L.A.
President Clinton, writing in Time Magazine this week, said “Chris had the lowest ego-to-accomplishment ratio of any public servant I’ve ever worked with. That made him easy to underestimate.”
None in the audience at his memorial seems to have made that mistake.