Remarks at the Funeral Ceremony for Former Senator John W. Warner III
Reverend Hollerith; distinguished clergy; Members of the Congress and our military; distinguished guests, Jeanne, Virginia, John, Mary, and Andrew, and the Warner family: It's a great honor to be invited to speak a few moments about John.
A few days after John's passing, I visited Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day—a sacred place on a solemn day when we undertake the fundamental act of remembrance. And amid the moments that I was there and the monuments of stone, we remember each marker represented a precious life. We remember the heroes of the greatest generation the world has ever known and that bears a noble name—the United States of America—the only nation founded on an idea that we're all created equal, "endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights," including, "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"; and a democracy that is the very soul of our Nation and that must be defended at all costs, a soul embodied by all those patriots buried in Arlington and the fields across the world and by our dear friend, John Warner.
Like many here, I had the privilege of serving with John for three decades in the United States Senate. While we represented different political parties, I can say without hesitation John was a man of conscience, character, and honor, with a deep commitment to God and country.
Enlisted in the Navy—in the United States Navy at age 17 to fight in World War II. A few years later, enlisted in the Marine Corps to fight in Korea. Eventually named Secretary of the Navy by President Nixon, then elected to the United States Senate, where he became a towering and respected voice on foreign policy, national security, and defense; the second longest serving Senator from Virginia and the longest serving Republican.
A member of the Greatest Generation, and as that, he understood that democracy is more than a form of government; democracy is a way of being. He understood it begins and grows in an open heart and with the willingness to work across the aisle and come together in common cause.
And that empathy—empathy—is the fuel of democracy, the willingness to see each other as opponents, not as enemies. Above all, to see each other as fellow Americans even when we disagree. From John's perspective, especially when we disagreed. That's how John forged consensus and made sure our system worked and delivered for the people. I saw it time and again on issues of war and peace. John opposing torture and ending gun violence; on protecting the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
John's decisions were always guided by his values, by his convictions, and never by personal political consequences. And he was always guided by his obligation to all those he represented, even those who did not vote for him.
Every Senator wears the pride of his or her State on their sleeve, but John's love for the people of Virginia was something special. And they loved him back and kept reelecting him because they knew John understood the job of Senator was bigger than himself. It was about more than just John.
And as we say in the Senate, "Excuse me a point of personal privilege": When John endorsed me for President last year, it carried an extra meaning for me. The Senators and Congresspersons here will understand this. It wasn't merely that a prominent Republican endorsed me; when John endorsed me, it gave me confidence, not about winning, about being able to do the job. John gave me confidence.
You know, in the battle for the soul of America today, John Warner is a reminder of what we can do when we come together as one Nation. While we've never made real the full promise of America to all Americans, John's life is a reminder that every generation—every generation—has opened the door of opportunity a little bit wider. Every one.
And the mission handed down generation to generation is the work of perfecting the Union, a mission he now leaves us with a way forward. That's the power of remembrance. It lies not just in our history, but in our hope for the future. Not just in our solace, but in our strength. It lies in our hearts to continue the work of democracy—the work of our time, of all time, and the work of John's whole life.
To John's Senate staff: Thank you for your service and for all you'll do to carry on John's legacy. And to his family—Jeanne, Virginia, John, Mary, Andrew—Jill [and]* I know it hurts to remember. Sometimes, it just hurts to remember. But it's also the way to heal, to remember.
The Bible teaches, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." While comfort can be a long time in coming, I promise you it will come. It will give you purpose in his memory, in his love for you, in his love for this country.
Virginia, I know you'll be reciting your father's favorite poem, a sort of an anthem. Here's another one that describes him so well, in my view, that means a great deal to my family and to me. It's called "American Anthem":
The work and prayers of centuries have brought us to this day,
What shall be our legacy? What will our children say?
Let me know in my heart when my days are through,
America, America, I gave my best to you.
John Warner gave his best to America and, to the best of my knowledge, to everybody he had a relationship with. May God bless him. He was a good man, a great American. It was an honor to have known him and worked with him.
NOTE: The President spoke at 11:21 a.m. at the Washington National Cathedral. In his remarks, he referred to Rev. Randolph M. Hollerith, dean, Washington National Cathedral; and Jeanne Vander Myde Warner, wife, and Virginia Warner, John W. Warner IV, and Mary Conover, children of Sen. Warner.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks at the Funeral Ceremony for Former Senator John W. Warner III Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/350533