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Slain Arkansas party chairman honored at funeral

Little Rock_The funeral for slain Arkansas Democratic Party chairman Bill Gwatney was marked by humor as former President Clinton and others remembered the man who had touched their lives.

Clinton told mourners Monday at the Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church to "make a list of what you were grateful for in Bill Gwatney's life.

"He was a better golfer than I was. I am not grateful for that. But he seemed to genuinely like it if I hit a good shot, which is a sign of grace."

Gwatney, who would have turned 49 during next week's Democratic National Convention, was shot last Wednesday by Timothy Dale Johnson, 50, of Searcy. Police killed Johnson after a 30-mile car chase when Johnson raised his gun and pointed it at his pursuers. Police do not know why Johnson shot Gwatney.

Clinton and Gov. Mike Beebe took advantage of the Rev. Vic Nixon's mistaken reference to Arkansas' governor as Mike Huckabee - Beebe's Republican predecessor and a favorite foil of Gwatney's.

"Thank you, monsignor," Beebe responded to the Methodist pastor's introduction, using a term applied only by Catholics to some of their clergymen.

"If you had introduced me as President Bush, I'd be convinced that Bill Gwatney wrote the script for your service," Clinton later added.

The mourners also included Clinton's wife, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Gwatney was to have been a superdelegate at next month's Democratic convention at Denver. He supported her presidential bid after Arkansas' primary but switched his support to Sen. Barack Obama when she left the race.

"I am more grateful than I can say for the support he gave to Hillary in this long last year," the former president said.

More than 500 mourners packed the church sanctuary and 350 more filled overflow rooms to watch the service on video.

"We have to understand we can only keep him alive if the love we felt for him and the love he felt for us is somehow manifest in our lives," Clinton said, standing in front of more than two dozen current and former lawmakers who served with Gwatney in the state Senate.

Beebe, who served with Gwatney in the state Senate, remembered Gwatney's help during the governor's successful 2006 race - part of a seven-race sweep of Arkansas' seven statewide offices.

"He could have taken a lot of other roads, but he chose public service," Beebe said.

Mourners included state legislators, members of the state's congressional delegation and former Democratic presidential candidate and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark.

The McEuen Funeral Home of Searcy said Johnson's family asked that details of his burial be kept private.

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