Hundreds Attend Memorial For Astronaut McNair With AM-Shuttle-Churches, Bjt
LAKE CITY, S.C. (AP) _ Ronald E. McNair was eulogized Sunday as ″upward bound and heaven bound″ as a thousand people paid tribute to the shuttle Challenger crewman who once picked cotton and tobacco in the fertile fields around his hometown.
McNair, a 35-year-old laser physicist, and six other crew members died Tuesday when Challenger exploded over Cape Canaveral, Fla.
″McNair was determined to be upward bound and heaven bound,″ the Rev. Jesse Jackson prayed. ″He took the wings of the morning and now his soul is at rest with thee.″
About 350 people squeezed into the the Wesley United Methodist Church a block from a street bearing McNair’s name. Outside the red brick church, hundreds more stood in spring-like weather, listening to the two-hour religious service on loudspeakers.
A community-wide memorial service was planned for Monday, and schools will be closed for the day.
Along the streets of the farming community of 2,500, black ribbons were tied to street signs and black balloons were strung from utility wires. Many residents drove with their headlights shining.
″Ron McNair was reaching for the heavens when he gave his life for us,″ Gov. Dick Riley said. ″The person was a good man, a compassionate person - a person interested in your children and all the children of America.″
Rep. Robin Tallon, D-S.C., also addressed the congregation Sunday as did McNair’s bothers, school friends and Col. Charles Bolden, a fellow astronaut. Sens. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., and Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., attended along with some members of the crew on McNair’s 1984 shuttle mission.
McNair’s wife Cheryl sat quietly holding the couple’s 3-year-old son Reginald. A NASA portrait of McNair stood above a spray of flowers.
Later, a saxophonist played ″What Greater Love.″ McNair had played his saxophone in space during his first shuttle flight.
Carl McNair said his brother had ″an unsatiable curiosity about the universe and wanted to unfold the mysteries of science and space.″
Of all the awards and citations the astronaut received, Carl McNair said, he was most touched by have the town’s main street named ″in honor of him - a black man who had once picked cucumbers, cotton and tobacco.″
And he recalled his brother telling their mother, ″I’m not going in that cockpit unless God is in there first.″
Bolden said that McNair would want America to continue its space exploration.
″If Ron were able to be here, he would wonder why everyone is looking as sad as we are. Ron’s probably looking down on us smiling and saying ... ‘That’s enough crying, let’s get up off the floor and get going.’ ″
Officials announced during the memorial that a new health center in Williamsburg County would be named for McNair.
Verlie Ann Tisdale, a biologist and high school classmate of McNair, said his friends and collegues ″will never say goodbye. When we look up to the heavens and see a bright twinkling star, we know that you are there.″