ANCHORAGE - Vice President Joe Biden recalled that when he was new to the Senate and had just lost his wife and daughter in a car accident, Ted Stevens walked over to him and offered his friendship.
Stevens always held true to his word, Biden said Wednesday at the funeral for the Senate's longest serving Republican.
"His word was his bond," Biden said. "His personal generosity was surprising in how quickly it was offered."
Biden said he and Stevens supported each other when their first wives died in tragic accidents and celebrated the joys that second marriages brought to both.
Throughout it all, Stevens worked hard for Alaska, Biden said.
"No state has ever had a more fierce defender of that state's way of life than Ted Stevens," the vice president said.
Stevens died last week along with four others in a plane crash in southwest Alaska while doing something he truly loved: fishing for salmon.
Thousands attended the funeral, which marked the end of three days of remembrances that began Monday when several hundred people attended a Catholic Mass in Anchorage. Mourners filed past a closed casket Tuesday as Stevens' body lay in repose at an Episcopal church.
Biden's speech brought laughter to Anchorage's largest church, as he recalled Stevens' success in bringing large amounts of federal money back to Alaska. Biden said "significant" amounts of money that belong to Biden's home state of Delaware and other states is now in Alaska.
More than 20 current and former senators, governors - including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin - and foreign representatives also attended the funeral, which was broadcast nationally.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Stevens devoted "every day of his life" to promoting Alaskans, not himself. Stevens came to Washington with a mission - to help build up the state - and never wavered from it, said McConnell, who served with Stevens.
It is hard to imagine any one person meaning more to any one state, he said.
"Everyone knew Ted Stevens," McConnell said.
"He was just like a real son to me," said Gertrude Bunyan, 73, who grew up in Hooper Bay and saw the improvements - a new high school and a health clinic - that Stevens brought to her village.
"He really helped the villages. We sure are going to miss him," she said.
The 86-year-old Stevens was appointed to the Senate in December 1968 and spent 40 years in office, becoming the longest-serving Republican senator in the nation's history. (The late Strom Thurmond was in the Senate longer than Stevens, but he spent a decade there as a Democrat before switching to the GOP.)
He began his career in public service in the days before Alaska statehood and did not leave politics until he lost an election in 2008, when he was convicted on corruption charges shortly before Election Day. A federal judge later threw out the verdict because of misconduct by federal prosecutors.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, drew thunderous applause at the funeral when he said people knew Stevens wasn't guilty of corruption.
Inouye and Stevens worked together from the time their states were just territories. He said his and Stevens' relationship epitomized bipartisanship - knowing they had to fight together to make progress - and he also noted the many Democrats in the church.
Stevens died Aug. 9 north of Dillingham when the plane smashed into a hillside while going from a corporate-owned lodge to a fishing camp. Four people, including ex-NASA chief Sean O'Keefe and his son Kevin, were among the survivors.
The others killed in the crash were pilot Theron Smith, General Communications Inc. executive Dana Tindall, her 16-year-old daughter, Corey, and William "Bill" Phillips Sr., who had worked with Stevens in Washington.
The Associated Press writers Rachel D'Oro in Anchorage and Becky Bohrer in Juneau contributed to this story.
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