NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former Vice President Al Gore and members of the Kennedy family joined hundreds of other mourners Monday for the funeral of renowned journalist and press freedom champion John Seigenthaler, whose career spanned the civil rights struggle in the South and contemporary battles for media openness in the digital age.
“We lost a giant,” said Gore following the Mass in Nashville, which was attended by more than 600 people from the worlds of politics, media, humanitarian groups and entertainment.
The funeral reflected the wide reach of Seigenthaler’s career, which included leading the newspapers The Tennessean and USA Today and working as a civil rights adviser during the administration of John F. Kennedy. Seigenthaler also was part of Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign and a pallbearer at Kennedy’s funeral after his assassination in 1968.
Seigenthaler later directed a center at Vanderbilt University dedicated to media freedoms and First Amendment rights for established news outlets as well as the evolving landscape of online journalism. He died Friday at his home in Nashville.
Charles Strobel, the founder of a homeless outreach group in Nashville, delivered the eulogy in which he said Seigenthaler’s commitment to the principles of equality and fairness was “deeply spiritual.”
“He spent a lifetime coming to the defense of others,” Strobel said.
Strobel said journalism was a means for Seigenthaler to achieve his vision, but “if his beloved friend Robert Kennedy had become president, he would have left The Tennessean to serve him.”
Gore, a former Tennessee senator, recounted after the funeral how Seigenthaler had offered him a job after Gore returned home from Vietnam. Gore was hired at a reporter on The Tennessean at $95 a week.
“He was one of my most important role models and mentors,” Gore said.
Seigenthaler’s grandson, Jack Seigenthaler, said during remarks at the service that the man he called “Grand” was “a model of self-education and the most well-read man I have ever met.” He said his grandfather loved Shakespeare and could recite whole scenes from Hamlet.
Jack Seigenthaler also recalled his grandfather giving him as pocket version of the U.S. Constitution with the inscription, “To Jack. This is my Bible.”
Seigenthaler’s long association with the Kennedy family drew mourners who included former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, current U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III and RFK’s widow, Ethel.
Emmylou Harris sang “We Shall Overcome,” a protest song by the late Pete Seeger that become linked with the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said after the funeral and Seigenthaler was one of the first people he met when he moved to Nashville. Bredesen said Seigethaler was “a great person to seek advice from quietly.”
“I’ll really miss him,” Bredesen said, “but what a great life.”