WICHITA, Kan. - Yesterday morning's memorial service for slain abortion doctor George Tiller was a peaceful celebration of his life, which culminated when his wife of nearly 45 years, Jeanne, stood alone on the altar and, in a strong clear soprano, sang "The Lord's Prayer," which she dedicated to "the love of my life."
Many in the crowd at College Hill United Methodist Church wept audibly as Tiller's widow hit several high notes. Last Sunday, when Tiller was shot in the vestibule of their Lutheran church, she had been preparing to sing in the choir. Tiller's closed casket was draped in white cloth.
Tiller, who was 67, is known to the public as one of the few providers of late-term abortions in the country and, indeed, the world. Although he was at the red-hot center of the struggle over legalized abortion for 35 years and the victim of some of its most extreme violence, his family and friends steered clear of that aspect of his life, striving instead to illustrate the kind of husband, father, and friend he was.
On the altar, a photograph of a smiling Tiller was displayed next to a large wreath with the words "Trust Women," a favorite Tiller saying. His love of axioms and aphorisms was a leitmotif of the service, during which he was eulogized by a friend of 50 years and his four adult children, two of whom are physicians. To them, and to his 10 grandchildren, he was known as "Papa."
Although security was tight at the 90-minute service, with uniformed and plainclothes law enforcement officers in abundance, the hundreds who had gathered to honor Tiller entered the sanctuary freely, and police reported no disruptive incidents.
The overflow crowd spilled out of the modern sanctuary and filled to capacity the church's gymnasium-size multipurpose room, where the service was broadcast on a huge screen.
Lining the curb in front of the church, about 50 people - mostly women - from the Kansas National Organization for Women wore blue T-shirts that said "Attitude is Everything," one of Tiller's favorite slogans. Others handed out white and red buttons with the same slogan, which many mourners wore on their lapels.
Fifty or more motorcycles were parked next to the church, owned by members of the Patriot Guard, war veterans who had come to honor Tiller, a Navy veteran and former flight surgeon.
A dozen or so antiabortion protesters were held at bay - required to stay two blocks away to conform to a Kansas state law outlawing protests within 150 feet of a funeral. They held signs - among them "God sent the shooter" - and yelled antiabortion slogans.