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President attends funeral of favorite uncle

June 26, 1997

HOPE, Ark. (AP) _ The last time Bill Clinton came home, it was to visit his mother’s grave. Today, in another sad homecoming, the president came here to bury a favorite great-uncle _ and with him, a last link to older generations.

Friends suggested this morning’s burial of Henry Oren ``Buddy″ Grisham, a companion and role model for young Billy, forced Clinton, now 50, to contemplate his own aging.

``We’ve come here today to celebrate a man who is loved very much. A man without wealth or power and without position or any pretense,″ Clinton said in eulogizing Grisham.

``He did the things that mattered the most in life. He was a great husband. A great father. A great uncle. A great great-uncle and a great friend. If our country and world had more people like Henry Grisham, how much better it would be. How much happier children’s lives would be.″

The passage of years was tangible: The Brazzel-Oakcrest funeral home where Clinton mourned Grisham was on the old site of Julia Chester Hospital, where the future president was born.

Rolling past the Wal-Mart and his newly restored birthplace, Clinton, in his presidential limousine, complained to Secret Service agents this morning that his motorcade was ``too long.″ He stopped at the Rose Hill cemetery to place a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers at the grave of his mother, Virginia Kelley, who died in 1994 of breast cancer.

Members of his own baby-boomer generation are now the eldest survivors of Clinton’s clan.

``The older you are _ especially when you have your own children and you see them getting ready to leave and go to college _ you hold tighter to your past,″ mused Skip Rutherford, a longtime family friend of the Clintons. ``When there’s a break in that past, there’s pain.″

The president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton rearranged their separate schedules _ with Clinton postponing until this afternoon an address to the U.N. Earth Summit in New York _ to be at the morning service, where Clinton delivered a eulogy. Grisham died Monday, at age 92, in a Hope nursing home.

In a speech to a Chicago fund-raiser Wednesday night, Clinton appeared mindful of his personal legacy, and of torches passed down through generations, when he described his presidency as steered by a single consideration: ``What would I like America to look like when my daughter is my age.″

Though he arrived in Hope well past midnight, Clinton went straight to the home of Grisham’s daughter, Myra Irvin, to visit for nearly two hours. He and the first lady then retired to the Best Western motel

Chelsea Clinton, 17, who enters Stanford University in September, did not accompany her parents to Arkansas.

The president describes Uncle Buddy, a favorite uncle of Clinton’s late mother, as a father figure during boyhood and fondly recalls shooting dice with him. On the 1992 campaign trail, he was a staple character in Clinton’s stump speeches, his name invoked as a great influence in the politician’s life.

Clinton’s own father died before Clinton was born, and his stepfather was an abusive alcoholic.

In one of two chapels at Brazzel-Oakcrest, distant relatives and neighbors in this dusty southwestern Arkansas town streamed by Grisham’s open casket during Wednesday’s wake.

The prominent and wealthy Little Rock, Ark., family of Jennings Osborne sent an arrangement of red and white roses that staff described as ``big as a chair″ to sit near the pulpit from which Clinton will speak.

Grisham was buried at Oak Grove cemetery beside an old country church on the outskirts of Hope.

The Clintons, accompanied by childhood friend and top White House aide Mack McLarty, also called on George and Jan Wright, old Arkansas friends who were burying their father today after services in the same funeral parlor.

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