DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – Robert Stevens was remembered Wednesday not as an anthrax victim, but as a man who always had a smile on his face and knew where the best fishing spots were.
Stevens was "just a very, very decent human being," said Stevens' friend Bennet Bolton, a senior writer for the National Enquirer. "I don't think he ever had an unkind word to say to anybody, or even had a bad thought."
Stevens, a 63-year-old photo editor at The Sun tabloid, became the nation's first anthrax fatality since 1976 when he died Friday. Investigators are still trying to determine whether he was the victim of a bioterrorism attack, and have tested his co-workers at American Media Inc.
At his memorial service at Unity Church of Delray Beach, anthrax was never mentioned. About 500 people packed the sanctuary, where a single candle burned in front of the altar. Stevens' body was cremated.
A colleague told how Stevens once edited a picture of Lillian Carter, the mother of former President Carter, to take out wrinkles. Bolton said he had last seen Stevens a week before he fell ill from anthrax, and that Stevens jokingly asked how Bolton's lung was, knowing it had been removed.
"He remembered stuff like that," Bolton said. "Bob was indeed a fine human being."
The parking lot outside the church was filled to capacity with cars, many flying American flags given to AMI employees when they had blood drawn Wednesday to test for anthrax antibodies. One car flew the Union Jack in tribute to the British-born Stevens, a naturalized American.
Vocalists sang "Ave Maria" and "How Great Thou Art," as well as "Amazing Grace." On the back of the program was the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, which reads in part, "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.... Where there is hatred, let me sow love."