AUSTIN, Texas – Former President Clinton tearfully escorted a flag-draped casket Saturday carrying former Gov. Ann Richards into the state Capitol, where she will spend the next two days lying in state before her funeral and burial.
Clinton delivered poignant and at times funny recollections of the woman he called "spontaneous, unedited, earthy, hilarious."
He told about 50 of her close friends and family about a lunch he once shared in New York with Richards and a group that included comedians Billy Crystal and Robin Williams.
"I thought to myself, I bet this is the only time in their entire lives that Billy Crystal and Robin Williams are the second and third funniest people at the table," he said, drawing chuckles from misty-eyed family members.
Richards, the Democrat known for her big, frosty white hair and sharp wit, died Wednesday at the age of 73 from esophageal cancer.
"In this case, goodbye is also a celebration, because of the big things that Ann Richards did," Clinton said.
A Texas Department of Public Safety honor guard rolled the casket into the Capitol rotunda, followed by Clinton and Richards' daughter, Cecile, as a girl's choir sang a hymn from a gallery above. Across the rotunda, Richard's painting hung next to one of President Bush, her successor as Texas governor, in its place among all their predecessors. Her portrait was draped in black.
Clinton called Richards "Texas on parade."
"For 30-plus years, that is certainly what she was to me and Hillary," he said. "First she was big: big hair, big bright eyes, big blinding smile. She also had a big heart, big dreams, did big deeds."
During her one term as governor from 1991-95 she championed what she called the "New Texas," appointing more women and minorities to state posts than any of her predecessors.
He described the world that Richards wanted for her grandchildren as one "where young girls grew up to be scientists, engineers, police officers and teachers ... where the dreams and the spirit were as big as the sky in her beloved home."
When Clinton finished speaking, Richards' daughter, Ellen, thanked him for "all the great times that you shared with our mom."
Clinton paused for a moment beside the casket, then greeted family members, hugging or shaking hands with each one in attendance. At one point, he bent down to comfort Richards' 8-year-old grandson Wyatt, who broke down in sobs.
After Clinton spoke, the Capitol Rotunda was opened to the public. Hundreds of mourners snaked around the building. Later, some visitors left tributes to Richards on a grassy area in front of the Capitol.
One note read: "Ann, Thank you for all that you've done for women in Texas. We will miss you dearly."
Richards is survived by her four children — Cecile, Daniel, Clark and Ellen Richards; their spouses and eight grandchildren.