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'He Was Florida Through And Through': Congressional Leaders Hold Celebration Of Life For Late Rep. Alcee Hastings

WASHINGTON DC (CBSMiami/AP) – A Celebration of Life was held Wednesday morning for the late Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings, who passed away on April 6 from pancreatic cancer at the age of 84.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty hosted the memorial inside the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol where he was remembered as a straight-talking, tenacious champion for the disadvantaged who overcame hurdles in his own life to forge a near three-decade career in the House.

With tears in her eyes, fellow Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, remembered her friend fondly.

"Like all of you, I am heartbroken by the loss of Alcee, but I am honored for the opportunity to celebrate his life and legacy today," she said. "Alcee loved the 20th District – from Belle Glade to Broward, and the Sawgrass to Sistrunk, he was Florida through and through. He valued every part of the cultural and ethnic mosaic that enriches our great state. We've lost a brilliant, fearless, giant-hearted advocate for the place he so dearly loved. And here in Congress, one less wise, patient and compassionate statesman walks our halls."

Vice President Kamala Harris also attended the event at Statuary Hall, which was invitation only due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing requirements.

No. 3 House Democratic leader James Clyburn of South Carolina said he first met Hastings as a college student and called him "the consoler and counselor, the friend when needed, the foe when appropriate." Clyburn said his late wife, Emily, often received phone calls of solace from Hastings before she died in 2019.

With a photo of a beaming Hastings facing the mourners, lawmakers recalled his trademark colorful socks and ability to be charming yet direct. A soloist sang the last verses of the song "My Way," which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Hastings had asked to be part of the memorial.

"He never let detractors or haters stop his purpose," said former Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., now a White House adviser to President Joe Biden.

Hastings was the son of a maid and a butler who became Florida's first Black federal judge since Reconstruction.

After a trial in which he was acquitted of bribery charges but a co-defendant was found guilty, a judicial panel accused him of fabricating his defense. He was impeached by the House in 1988 and removed from office in 1989 by the Senate.

Three years later, Hastings was elected to the House and served until his death. He was known as an advocate for minorities, gays, immigrants, women and the elderly and a defender of Israel.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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