WASHINGTON - Local and national political leaders, prominent clergy, and ordinary Washingtonians who got their first jobs as a result of Marion Barry's programs were among the thousands who gathered Saturday to say goodbye to the man dubbed "Mayor for Life."
Barry, the dominant figure of Washington's modern political era, was buried Saturday evening at Congressional Cemetery after a final farewell service that concluded at 4 p.m. More than two dozen people spoke at the service.
Many thousands had streamed into the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, even if just for a short time, during nine hours of events in commemoration of a man who was mayor for 16 years and a D.C. Council member for another 16.
He died Nov. 23 at 78 and leaves a legacy as the most famous, the most beloved, and the most divisive local leader in four decades of District of Columbia self-rule.
He was credited with expanding economic opportunity for the city's black majority, and helping to revitalize downtown. He also had personal struggles, culminating in a 1990 drug arrest. He served six months in prison but was later elected to a fourth term. He was "the consummate politician. He was an elder statesman. He was a fierce fighter for the dispossessed," said the Rev. Willie Wilson.
In his eulogy, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called Barry, who came to Washington as the first chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, a "freedom fighter" who joins the pantheon of civil rights leaders who died before him.
Barry's widow, Cora Masters Barry, said her husband's common touch prevented him from completing ordinary errands. "I stopped letting him go to the gas station, because he would spend all his money, not on gas but on people asking him for money," Masters Barry said.
Barry's son, Christopher Barry, 33, thanked his father for teaching him life lessons and said: "I didn't always feel like he had the time to spend with me as a father. It was other people that embraced me. I never felt his absence because I always felt his love through others."