Originally published in the Yellowstone County News print edition on 5/13/16
BILLINGS — Humorous anecdotes balanced poignant moments as a crowd of about 1,000 gathered last week to say goodbye to Sen. Conrad Burns.
It was a fitting tribute to the man who “never met a stranger,” said his daughter, Keely Godwin during the funeral service at MetraPark. Her father was interested in everything, she said, especially people, but also music and reading.
“I never met anyone that read more than Dad,” she said, although many people who knew him may be surprised by his avid interest in books.
“Mostly, he was interested in people,” she said. “How they interacted… how to make (all) our goals achievable.”
Burns will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, which led his son Garrett to muse that “even in death, my father gets a really good parking spot.”
Garrett recalled several humorous stories about his father’s upbringing in Missouri, including cooling his heels in jail overnight for illegal fishing and leaping out of an empty grave to spook unsuspecting friends.
Conrad Burns loved his family and kept them on their toes with adventures, road trips and pranks, Garrett said.
“I’m sure he has a little excitement left we don’t know about yet,” he said. “Goodbye, Pop. I love you.”
Pastor Darren Paulson of Atonement Lutheran Church eulogized Burns as man who endured a childhood of poverty during the Depression. At one point, his family stood on the courthouse steps attempting to buy their farm back from the county.
His childhood “galvanized his resolve and determination” to “leave a path for others” that was easier, although they would still have to work for it.
Paulson said he had heard all the stories of Conrad’s childhood pranks and adventures, all told “with that trademark chuckle.” More recently, Conrad told him, “It seems like a dream of someone else’s life.”
With his health failing, “in faith he clung in confidence” to his belief that “there was always this great God of his that went before him,” Paulson said. Now, at “some divine rodeo… we know that God will be rejoicing.”
“Most of us can agree that Conrad qualified for God’s grace,” Paulson said. “He was claimed by a God who came for him.”
The Military Police Company Delta of the U.S. Marine Corps posted colors and performed a 21-gun salute against a backdrop of the Marines Corps hymn and “Taps.” His wife, Phyllis, received the flag that had draped his casket during the service.
As the service concluded, Paulson prayed for healing, to “bring joy out of grief and life out of death” for Burns’ wife, Phyllis, and his family along with “the broad network of Conrad’s friends.”
“We entrust you to God,” said Paulson. “May you rest in peace and rise in glory.”