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“Act well your part, there all the honour lies.” Harry McPherson’s Memorial Service

On Friday morning, my colleague Chuck Scofield and I walked over to Saint John’s Church across from the White House for the memorial service for Harry McPherson who died two weeks ago at the age of 83. It was the church Harry was married in 30 years ago, and sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows, 23 of which were created by artisans at Chartres Cathedral in France. The last pew has a plaque indicating where Abraham Lincoln frequently sat after walking over from the White House for a moment of quiet contemplation.

Establishment Washington – at least the part old enough to know and remember Harry, turned out in force: former Senate Majority Leaders George Mitchell and Tom Daschle, former Senators Chris Dodd and Harris Wofford, Secretary of State Madeline Albright, journalists Al Hunt and Mark Shields, and hundreds more.

From his beginnings as counsel to Lyndon Johnson, during the turmoil of Vietnam, civil rights and the Great Society that was the defining period of his life, Harry went on to serve every president from Nixon through Clinton. There were many references by the eulogists to his patriotism, civility, and a seemingly long ago time “when government actually worked.” There were remembrances of his love of books, poetry, and literature, and his own wonderful memoir, A Political Education. Mostly there was admiration for his intellectual curiosity, love of adventure, humor, and fully lived life as father and friend.

Harry’s son Sam who interned at Share Our Strength gave a eulogy as did historian David McCullough. McCullough summarized Harry’s credo with one line from essayist Alexander Pope: “Act well your part, there all the honour lies.” It was the kind of timeless wisdom most of us aspire to and Harry lived.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was surprised, and honored on behalf of all of us, when seeing on the back of the program that the family had asked that charitable contributions be made in Harry’s memory to Share Our Strength and two other organizations.

The last of three hymns was America the Beautiful. The entire audience rose and sang it as one.

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