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Atwater Remembered at Hometown Funeral

April 2, 1991

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ Lee Atwater was remembered in his hometown as a gifted political strategist by Republicans he helped put in office.

″If anybody in heaven has a need for a political adviser, they have the best,″ Gov. Carroll Campbell said at Atwater’s funeral Monday.

Atwater, whose rough-and-tumble tactics helped propel George Bush to the presidency, died Friday at age 40. After Bush’s victory, Atwater was rewarded by being named Republican Party chairman.

Several hundred mourners attended the funeral, including Vice President Dan Quayle and Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who gave Atwater his start working for Republicans.

″Lee wasn’t a political mercenary, simply serving the highest bidder,″ Quayle said. ″Politics wasn’t his business. It was Lee Atwater’s calling in life.″

The funeral was held at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral across the street from the South Carolina Statehouse. Burial followed at Greenlawn Cemetery.

After he was stricken with a brain tumor a little more than a year ago, Atwater said he became devoted to Jesus Christ and for the first time in his life no longer hated anyone.

He apologized to rivals about whom he made cutting remarks during campaigns, including former Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, who Bush defeated by a landslide in 1988.

Speakers at the funeral reflected almost as much on the softening of Atwater’s attitude after he was stricken as on his image as a political fighter and campaign strategist.

″Over the last year during this most important campaign that he ever ran, Lee may have grown the most,″ Campbell said. ″Lee won that campaign. He was at peace with himself, at peace with his fellow man and at peace with his God.″

Born in Atlanta, Atwater moved with his family to Columbia when he was 9.

He began working for Republicans, including Thurmond, in the 1970s, while still at Newberry College.

Atwater came to political prominence working for former President Reagan. He went to work as a White House aide after running Reagan’s 1980 South Carolina primary campaign against Bush and former Texas Gov. John Connally.

Bush did not attend the funeral, and the White House said he would instead attend a memorial service in Washington on Thursday.

Among those who attended were Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and White House Chief of Staff John Sununu.

Atwater is survived by his wife, Sally, and three daughters.

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