I am extremely honored to have had the opportunity to play bagpipes at the State Funeral of Oregon Secretary of State, Dennis Richardson in Salem, OR. I have extensive experience playing military funerals and interacting with senior military officials and honor guards (I regularly play The Willamette National Cemetery and have played many services at Fort Rosecrans and other military bases in San Diego. I used to be on contract with the Navy for playing the officer’s retirements at the 32nd Naval base.) However, to be witness and participant to such a formalized ceremony was incredible.
It was snowing in Salem when I arrived. I knew the weather and fluctuations between the colder damp outside and warmer inside would affect my reeds so warming up my pipes would definitely be necessary. As I was led through the building I passed a lovely Ed Carpenter stained glass as well as other striking art pieces. The Capitol rotunda is beautifully painted with murals. Today, in the middle of the floor and directly under the breathtaking dome sat Dennis Richardson’s flag-covered casket. Beside it were flowers, a portrait, and a single military guard. Visitors paid their respects. It was already obvious that he was a well-loved family man, friend, co-worker and public official.
I was directed to an unexpected but perfect warm-up space – the press room of the Capitol. It came complete with sound-proofing foam and a wooden podium flanked by the US and State flags. I was tickled to be in the midst of the press offices – OPB, AP, The Statesman Journal, KATU and more – located right outside of the press room. At one point during my warm-up a gentleman from the AP rushed into the room and then turned and quickly left. I followed him to make sure I wasn’t being too disruptive. He had heard the pipes and wanted to make sure he wasn’t missing a press conference.
As the Senate and House Chambers filled with guests I met with various military and state police officials to discuss the order of the ceremony. It was decided I would play Amazing Grace at the end, as the casket left the chambers and moved through the rotunda to the front of the Capitol. From the Capitol it would be taken from hearse to a helicopter and flown to Medford for burial the next day. The senior officer in charge asked that I hold off on playing the pipes until the honor guard bearing the casket made it down the staircase from the chambers to the rotunda floor. This journey of one staircase was careful work. Eight men carrying the casket and pausing at each step would take over 2 minutes.
At the appointed time I stood at the ready. I watched as the casket was moved down the staircase and then laid onto a wheeled cart on the rotunda floor. Three Oregon State Policemen took over, one on each side and one at the back, to escort the casket from the building. At the hand-off from military to state police the senior military official in charge walked and stood in front of me, just a few inches from my face, and said, “You may play when you are ready, Sir!”. I struck in and began to play, turning and walking slowly across the rotunda floor. I led the procession out the door toward a white canopy standing in the light rain. The family and those right behind gathered under the canopy and the rest of the crowd filled the space, lining the outside walls of the building and standing partway down the stairs. Members of the press moved about and captured the scene from the different angles. After a few minutes the honor guard approached the casket, four men on each side, and performed the presentation of the flag. After a senior official presented the flag to the next of kin (in this case, Mrs. Richardson) 7 military personnel performed the 21 gun salute. The casket was slid into the hearse and the crowd slowly dispersed. Unfortunately because of overcast and rainy weather the missing man formation flyover was cancelled.
The entire procession and ceremonious respect was incredible to witness. I feel so fortunate to have been part of the first State Funeral in 36 years and my condolences go out to everyone who is feeling the loss of Mr. Richardson.