Top military officials and about 100 members of Congress from both political parties are expected to join thousands of mourners headed to Pinellas County Wednesday and Thursday to pay their respects to congressman Bill Young.
The U.S. House of Representatives won’t convene Thursday so representatives can attend Young’s funeral, and a military flight will ferry representatives between Washington, D.C., and Largo. Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England and Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, are among those scheduled to eulogize Young, who was the longest-tenured Republican in Congress until his death Friday.
Young’s funeral at First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks isn’t expected to draw the crowds that honored Sen. Ted Kennedy in 2009 or that have attended the funerals of past presidents; but the 82-year-old’s four decades in office, moderate positions and advocacy for the military won him the admiration of both his constituents here and his Washington colleagues.
Historically, funerals for esteemed political leaders serve as occasions for even bitter partisans to put aside disputes and pay their respects, University of Florida history professor Steven Noll said.
“The fact that he served for 40 years is grounds for people of both parties to celebrate a dedicated public servant,” said Noll, a specialist in U.S political history.
“They’re going to have a significant number of people from both parties, I think, because of who he was and what he stood for,” Noll said.
“People see him as an anachronism from a different time, especially after the craziness of the past month.”
That spirit of putting aside past differences won’t extend to three local Democrats, though, who were explicitly told by Young’s widow not to show up at his visitation today or funeral on Thursday.
Beverly Young sent emails this week to former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice and Jessica Ehrlich, telling them their presence would be “unacceptable” and warning them against using her late husband’s memorial to promote their political agendas.
“I don’t want my husband’s memorial service to be another opportunity for that, and I will not tolerate anyone turning this into a platform for political gain,” she wrote in an email to Crist.
Crist is rumored to be running for governor against Republican Rick Scott. Ehrlich has announced plans to run for Young’s vacant seat, and Justice unsuccessfully ran against him in the past.
A nine-year veteran of the Army National Guard who also spent six more years as a reservist, Young was seen as a guardian of the military, particularly in maintaining defense spending as the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
Young’s family will hold a public visitation from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Congressman C.W. Bill Young Armed Forces Reserve Center, at 2801 Grand Ave. N. in Pinellas Park.
His funeral on Thursday is scheduled for 1 p.m. and expected to fill the 3,000 seats in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks, located at 12685 Ulmerton Road. Church officials are preparing extra seating and an overflow area that can accommodate 1,2000 more. Young will be buried in a private ceremony at Bay Pines National Cemetery.
Traffic is expected to be heavy Wednesday, as people head to Pinellas Park for Young’s viewing. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is advising drivers to avoid the Gateway area just north of Gandy Boulevard, between U.S. 19 and 28th Street, from 2:30 and 9 p.m. Significant traffic delays are also expected along Park Boulevard, from 113th Street to 28th Street, between 2 and 3:30 p.m.
Tribune reporter Howard Altman contributed to this report