Former Missouri U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan’s words, “Don’t Let the Fire Go Out,” was largely the direction of her memorial service today in St. Louis.

Carnahan, the first woman to represent Missouri in the U.S. Senate, died Jan. 30 at the age of 90.

Don’t Let the Fire Go Out! is the name of Carnahan’s autobiography. At the memorial service, Tom Carnahan, son of Mel and Jean, said the seven books his mother authored were a “vivid reflection on the joys of living and the stories of hope, laughter, renewal, and human connection.”

The largely upbeat service showed how Jean Carnahan, also a former first lady of Missouri, left her mark on this world. It included special memories about the positive example she set, her lifelong pursuit to learn and organize, her “backbone of steel” and “nonstop fire hose of ideas.”

Russ Carnahan, former Missouri congressman and the son of Mel and Jean, recalled what his mother said in her final days.

“I’m ready to blast out of here!”

“Where are you going,” asked Robin, Mel and Jean’s daughter.

“Wherever the good Lord takes me,” Russ recalled his mother saying.

The crowd at the service chuckled.

Russ Carnahan said his mother was a lifelong learner who did not believe in “sitting on the sidelines.”

“She believed that you don’t just live in this world, but you shape it, like an artist molding clay, shape it to help others to leave your community, even the world, a better place. I was thanking mom in one of our last conversations for teaching us such great examples of creativity. And she said to me, ‘I had so many creative ideas, but your dad squashed most of them.’ We laughed. But it’s what made mom and dad such incredible life partners. Dad was more measured, but it was mom’s creative genius that pushed him, lifted them through the highs and lows and uncertainties of public life.”

From being a Cub Scout den mother to leading a campaign to replace the old Rolla city swimming pool, he said his mother was an organizer at heart.

“Jean Carnahan was a nonstop fire hose of ideas,” said Russ Carnahan. “That could be overwhelming for some, but also inspiring. She transformed so many of those ideas into reality. If she were here today, she would have this entire room organized and focused on some big worthy goal.”

Robin Carnahan said her mother was a woman of many talents – an artist, community organizer, political advisor, motivational speaker, foodie, and writer.

“Jean Carnahan was an encourager until the very end,” said Robin Carnahan.

The former U.S. senator was also known for her work in the food blogging world. Carnahan’s policy was only to write positive reviews.

“She said on her blog that anyone brave enough to take up a skillet and a spatula should be encouraged in their pursuit,” said Tom Carnahan.

He said his mom knew the power of words better than anyone he has known.

“When she went to the U.S. Senate, I spent a lot of time with her there. One thing you begin to notice at political gatherings in D.C. that, unless it’s the actual president himself speaking, nobody in the crowd gets quiet and listens to the speaker. The only exception to that I experienced was mom,” he said. “When she spoke, you could hear a pin drop. She just had a way of capturing people’s attention and imagination. The words she chose to say, but also how she said them. You had to listen, and if you did, you were always rewarded. At one of her speeches, I even saw her bring a lobbyist to tears.”

Roy Temple served as Sen. Carnahan’s chief of staff and as Gov. Mel Carnahan’s chief of staff.

“As senator, Jean shared her grit, her smarts, her character, moral convictions, and showed that she had a backbone of steel. Jean understood the good and the excellent things in the world worth fighting for: family, friends, democracy, our children. She fought for them every day in ways large and small with wit and good cheer,” said Temple. “She poured her heart and soul into whatever her current effort was, and there was always a current effort.”

Saturday’s service was led by the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democratic U.S. Congressman from Kansas City. He talked about a parachute saving a U.S. Navy pilot during the Vietnam War.

Cleaver used that metaphor to talk about the Carnahans.

“I think Jean Carnahan and this family, for years and years and years, and still, are packing parachutes for the people of Missouri,” said Cleaver.

He urged the younger generation of Carnahans to start packing parachutes.

The service ended on a high note – with the song “When The Saints Go Marching In,” played in soul music style.

Copyright 2024, Missourinet.