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Van Cliburn Remembered With Extraordinary Words And Music

Joyce Marshall, pool photographer

A former president, sitting governor, and billionaire philanthropist were among the dignitaries who turned out for Sunday’s funeral of music legend Van Cliburn. But  the service drew  not just the well-known.

As you might expect, funeral music commemorating a master musician was beyond ordinary at Cliburn’s Broadway Baptist Church. There was the organ named for Van Cliburn’s mother, a huge chorus and orchestra.  Eulogies were special too. Former President George W. Bush praised not only Cliburn’s world-class talent, but his common touch. Bush said Cliburn played The Star Spangled Banner to inaugurate the Ranger’s Arlington Ballpark. He also exercised extraordinary musical  diplomacy.

“Instead of a Texas cowboy, the Soviets saw a man who was self -effacing, of modest and gentle nature. He was beloved even by the enemy. A definition of a diplomat is a person with a temperament marked by tact in dealing with sensitive matters. Nothing was more sensitive than two super powers armed with thousands of warheads aimed at each other. No one was more tactful than Van Cliburn. Members of the Presidents Club could have taken a lesson from him in diplomacy.”

Cliburn played for George W. Bush at the White House and every president since Truman. One speaker said Cliburn had more White House invitations than Billy Graham. But Cliburn’s appeal also reached the likes of Francine Manilow,  who created the first Cliburn fan club in 1958. Today, she’s a successful business woman in Chicago.

“I walk into a conference and I have quite a few events during the year, and the first thing I say to myself is ‘be like Van.’  Which means of course, be humble, don’t talk about yourself and genuinely care about anybody that you meet and greet. And that was Van Cliburn.”

Former Fort Worth mayor Mike Moncrief said in Van Cliburn, the city has lost someone irreplaceable. He talked of Cliburn and his surviving friend of long standing, Tom Smith.

"He was part of the Fort Worth family. And that’s what Fort Worth is, it’s a family,  it’s not just a city. It’s a state of mind, it’s a family. And Van and Tommy have always been part of that fabric as long as I can remember."

There’s no question, Moncrief said, Cliburn’s accomplishments made him world renowned. But here, among friends, he was home. This was home.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.