From Sean Cockerham and Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --
Updated 4:24 p.m.
Ted Stevens’ friends and former colleagues, including Vice President Joe Biden, remembered him as a generous, loyal man who went far beyond partisan politics and had a prowess for delivering vast sums to build the state he embodied.
Stevens' funeral ended with his flag-draped casket carried out of the Anchorage Baptist Temple by an honor guard. Thousands stayed and watched a screen showing photos of his life, and then filed out to attend a reception.
The funeral service was a celebration of his life, with fond stories and laughter, adding to the tearful tributes made since Stevens died in a plane crash last week.
Anchorage Baptist Temple Pastor Jerry Prevo was the last speaker of the service, saying he wouldn't be surprised if the wiry, compact Stevens was six feet, 10 inches tall in his new life. "He's going to be the Hulk we all knew he was," Prevo said.
Steven's close friend, Hawaii Democratic Sen. Dan Inouye, said Stevens' was a master of "congressional initatives," otherwise known as earmarks.
"Ted was the grandfather of earmarks. And you can thank him for that," Inouye said to applause.
He said Stevens was a man of trust, a good friend who went beyond idealogy. "We made the word bipartisan become real. Real. And, as you look around here among his colleagues, former colleagues, you will see a lot of Democrats."
Inouye also brought up the 2008 finding of a federal jury that Stevens was guilty of failing to disclose gifts, a verdict that was later thrown out because of prosecutorial misconduct. "We knew, we all knew it that he was not guilty," Inouye said to applause. "And he was vindicated, he was cleared."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had called on Stevens to resign from the Senate at the time, also spoke and did not mention the trial.
“Last week, America said goodbye to one of its great men. Ted Stevens was respected and revered in Washington and throughout the Lower 48 for his service to his country, his many legislative achievements, and his legendary grit. Ted’s colleagues in the Senate lost a dear friend whom we admired and even sometimes feared. But it’s obvious to everyone that the people of Alaska lost something even more," McConnell said.
(Photo gallery here.)
Updated 3:09 p.m.
Vice President Joe Biden recalled how the Alaska Republican Stevens reached out to him when Biden, at the time a 30-year-old Democrat from Delaware, was first elected to the U.S. Senate.
Biden, lowest in the Senate in seniority at that time, had just lost his wife and his daughter in a car accident.
“(Stevens) walked across the floor of the Senate to my corner desk…extended his hand and said, ‘I want to get to know you. Ann and I want you to come to dinner,” the vice president recalled.
Biden said he and Stevens also celebrated together, like when their daughters were born within weeks of one another. “In the old days we used to have birthdays together in the Senate dining room,” Biden said.
Biden said Stevens always kept his word, was quick with generosity, and embodied his state like no other senator.
“No state has ever had a more fierce defender of that state’s way of life than Ted Stevens,” he said.
He said the Irish poet James Joyce once said "when I die, Dublin will be written in my heart."'
"I have not a single doubt that Alaska is written in Ted's heart," Biden said.
Updated 2:32 p.m. The funeral service for Ted Stevens began with Archbishop Francis Hurley saying that Stevens was a man of God, a man who wanted to be measured for the good he did for his people.
“I know the Lord will have no hesitation in welcoming Ted as his own. We do hope the Lord has a building big enough to accommodate all the good works that go with him," he said.
Hurley said that, if there are committees in heaven, “all the Alaskans will be asking that God put Ted on the Appropriations Committee.”
Updated 1:45 p.m.
The Anchorage Baptist Temple is packed today for the funeral service of Ted Stevens. Pastor Jerry Prevo says he expects 3,500 to 4,000 people at the church today, between the santcuary and an overflow room.
Prevo said the last time he talked to Stevens was Aug 1, here at the church. Stevens would sometimes slip in unnaounced when he was in town, Prevo said.
"His last words to me were, 'Thank you pastor, you taught me that prayers get answered," Prevo said. It was a reference to "what he called his time of turmoil" and the resolution of his court case, said Prevo. Prevo planned to recount that conversation during the funeral service.
Vice President Joe Biden is sitting in the front row and is scheduled to give the first tribute to Stevens, followed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Hawaii Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye, who Stevens called "my brother."
Anyone who is anyone in Alaska politics is here. Former Gov. Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd, arrived a half hour before the service, and were quickly ushered into the VIP room after taking a photo with Prevo. Several other former governors, and much of the current legislature, are here. Former Anchorage Mayors Rick Mystrom, Jack Roderick and George Wuerch are here. So are political candidates like Joe Miller, Ethan Berkowitz, Mead Treadwell and Jay Ramras.
As state Rep. Lindsey Holmes, D-Anchorage, and Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, walked to sign the guest book outside the sanctuary, McGuire noticed standing in the lobby a picture of a young Stevens fishing as he smoked a pipe, a pistol on his hip.
"Look at that photo, Linds. What a stud," McGuire said.
Original post, 12:50 p.m.
People are filing in to the Anchorage Baptist Temple for the Ted Stevens funeral service, which is scheduled to begin in just under an hour.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch just arrived and was immediately escorted to a VIP room with heavy security, where Stevens family members are greeting people. No visible sign yet of the vice president, but Secret Service is everywhere.
What seems like most members of the state Legislature have already arrived and taken their seats in the sanctuary. Photos of Stevens throughout his life are being shown on a large screen in the sanctuary. They include images of him meeting with Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, members of his staff through the years, and many shots of him in Alaska.
The Stevens family has not said where Stevens will be buried, but I'm told that it might be Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington, D.C.
Full list of the dignitaries expected here.
(ADN columnist Julia O'Malley is also writing live reports from the Baptist Temple via Twitter.)