Biden, other US leaders honor Dianne Feinstein’s legacy at memorial ceremony

As late senator’s casket lies in state at San Francisco City Hall, American president says by video that ‘she was always tough, prepared, rigorous, compassionate’

A photograph of US senator Dianne Feinstein is flashed on a screen during a memorial service in her honor, October 5, 2023, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)
A photograph of US senator Dianne Feinstein is flashed on a screen during a memorial service in her honor, October 5, 2023, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The late US senator Dianne Feinstein was toasted Thursday at a memorial service as a leader with uncommon integrity and a defender of American values — as well as a talented artist and a grandmother who gave crooked haircuts in her kitchen.

US President Joe Biden, who sent recorded remarks, was among the short list of speakers who praised Feinstein at the private memorial service outside San Francisco City Hall. Vice President Kamala Harris, herself a product of San Francisco politics, and other national leaders spoke in person to send off the first female mayor of San Francisco and longest-serving woman in the US Senate.

“She was always tough, prepared, rigorous, compassionate. She always served the people of California and our nation for the right reasons,” Biden said. “God bless a great American hero. She was something else, and she was a dear friend.”

The service marked the end of two days of events in the city that launched Feinstein’s political career amid tragedy. Hundreds of everyday people streamed into City Hall on Wednesday to pay their respects to the woman who shattered numerous glass ceilings.

On Thursday, it was time for national leaders and Feinstein’s family to share tributes to the woman they knew. They did so with personal and warm anecdotes that reflected Feinstein’s kindness, wit, and passion for the city in which she was born and raised, California and the country.

Eileen Mariano recalled how Feinstein, her grandmother, created the AMBER Alert program and protected California’s deserts. But she was also a woman who hated losing at chess, cut hair crookedly and sang Mariano to sleep with “You Are My Sunshine.”

She taught Mariano to put in the work and to keep going no matter what.

“That, and she would also say to me, if you ever go out of town, no matter where you’re going, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to a city or the desert or a beach or the mountains, always pack a black pantsuit. There is no occasion to which you can’t wear a black pantsuit,” Mariano said.

Democratic Representative Nancy Pelosi of California center, kisses the hand of Eileen Mariano, granddaughter of the late senator Dianne Feinstein, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, left, listens to San Francisco Mayor London Breed during a memorial service for the late senator at City Hall in San Francisco on October 5, 2023. (Carlos Avila Gonzalez/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

About 1,500 people were invited to the private memorial, where two large outdoor screens showed photos of Feinstein over the years. Guests seated in white chairs sweltered on an unseasonably hot day as the US Navy Blue Angels flight team soared overhead, occasionally interrupting speakers with the roar of their jets.

The flight demonstration squadron is in the city as part of Fleet Week, an annual San Francisco celebration started by Feinstein in 1981 when she was mayor.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor, and former governor Jerry Brown were in the audience, though neither offered remarks. Feinstein was the officiant at Brown’s 2005 wedding to his wife, Anne Gust, a matchmaking effort referenced by former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, another San Franciscan, in her remarks.

More than three dozen US senators and representatives attended the service.

Several speakers reflected on Feinstein’s dedication to the job.

Harris said after she was sworn in as a US senator, Feinstein congratulated her with a glass of California chardonnay and a binder full of her legislative initiatives.

The vice president also recalled being a young prosecutor on November 3, 1992, when she drove from Oakland into San Francisco to celebrate Feinstein and Barbara Boxer winning election to the US Senate — making California the first state to send two women to the chamber. Harris then reflected on her journey back to San Francisco for Thursday’s memorial, this time on Air Force Two.

“Dianne, the women of America have come a long way. Our country has come a long way. And you helped move the ball forward and our nation salutes you,” she said.

Democratic Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, second from left, surrounded by her family, places her hands over the casket of Senator Dianne Feinstein at City Hall on October 4, 2023, in San Francisco. (AP/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, meanwhile, recalled Feinstein fracturing her ankle on a walk in Lake Tahoe and, instead of going to the doctor, proceeding with a planned summit to talk about policy issues related to the prized natural resources straddling California and Nevada.

He said one of his proudest moments was working with Feinstein to pass legislation banning the manufacturing and sale of certain types of semi-automatic guns. The legislation expired a decade later, in 2014. But he said he was also indebted to her as a father of two daughters.

“Because of Dianne, my daughters grew up in a world that’s a little bit fairer, a little more just and more accepting of women in leadership,” he said.

Feinstein, who died last week at her home in Washington, DC, of natural causes, spent much of her career in the US Senate but will be known as the forever mayor of San Francisco, a role she inherited in tragedy.

She was president of the Board of Supervisors in November 1978 when a former supervisor assassinated Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, the city’s first openly gay supervisor, at City Hall. Feinstein, who found Milk’s body, became acting mayor and won election twice to serve as mayor until 1988.

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