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Remarks at a Memorial Service for Representative Walter H. Capps

November 12, 1997

Laura, the staff and friends and admirers of Walter Capps; the first time I met Walter, he was not a Congressman. As a matter of fact, he was a man who had run for and been defeated for Congress. I knew he must be a special man because Laura was working for us, just next to my office, and I knew he had to have been a special father.

So I met this guy, and I thought, this man is entirely too nice to be in Congress anyway. [Laughter] Besides that, he speaks in complete sentences and paragraphs. [Laughter] He would never get along in Washington in the 1990's; he's happy all the time. [Laughter] I don't think he has a mean bone in his body. Well, suffice it to say, when he ran again, I was elated and even happier when he won.

For me, the defining image of the 1996 campaign will always be that magnificent day at the University of Santa Barbara when we were up on the hill and there were 15,000 or more people there, mostly students. It was a sunny day looking out on the ocean, and there was Walter Capps on the stage with me, beaming. You know, he wasn't exactly an experienced campaigner, and he used to joke that I had actually had to grab him and teach him how to smile and wave to a crowd from a stage. He was up there—he said, "I never had a crowd like this before. I never had a crowd like this before." [Laughter] I said, "Walter, this is easy. You just go up, put one arm around me and wave the other arm." [Laughter] "It's easy; you can do this."

I say this to make a point you have already heard from every previous speaker. The things I taught him were superficial things; the things that he taught us were deep and enduring things. And he seemed to naturally be upbeat, harmonious, uniting. I try to do that, but some days it's a real effort for me. I think it came out of the depths of his soul. I think he was at ease with the consequences of whatever could happen to him. Most people in politics are full of anxiety with the consequences of whatever could happen to them.

He believed in his party, but principles were more important. He liked victory, but values were more important. And he knew that the mind was a wonderful thing, but the heart was more important.

I can only tell you that, for me, perhaps the most important thing was that whenever I saw him, he made me prouder to be in public service. He made me want to stand a little taller. He was always so incredibly ingratiating and humble, and he was—"It's such a big thing to be in the White House," and "I'm so proud my daughter works for the President," and all that stuff, you know, but he made me feel better being around him.

He sent a message to young people that public service is a noble thing and that people who commit themselves to it can make positive changes. He was an instant and consistent rebuke to the cynicism that some people try to make their way with in this day and age, especially when they talk about the political system. He taught us about our common humanity, and he left us all a little better than we would have been. And if we remember not only what he said but how he lived, he'll make us a lot better than we would have been.

Hebrews says, "We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, so let us run with patience the race that is before us." He had a remarkable way of being avid, eager, almost lusty about everything he was trying to take in in life, and yet underneath, there was this calm patience. He had one thing I wish I could have, that I wish we all could—that has already been discussed—and that is, every moment seemed enough and self-contained, and he was always there. The lives we live in Washington leave us so crammed-headed, half the time we're not there in whatever is happening to us. Walter Capps was always there.

For me, because my daughter is the most important person in the world to me and to Hillary, his role as a father meant a lot, and Laura is now a part of our family. But the integrity and the constancy that he brought to that role is something you could see in every single thing he did. So we only had him a little less than a year, and we feel a little cheated. But maybe the lesson from God, through Walter, to us is: It wasn't me; it was you. And we should be a little more like him every day.

That will be his great and enduring gift, not only to us but to the United States.

May God bless his memory and his family.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:39 p.m. at the Cannon House Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Representative Capps' daughter Laura, Staff Director for the Office of Speechwriting at the White House.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Memorial Service for Representative Walter H. Capps Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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