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LAS VEGAS (AP) – Two US Presidents joined other Democratic leaders from across the country on Saturday to commemorate former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has emerged from poverty and child deprivation in Nevada for become one of the most powerful elected officials in the country.

Attendance at Reid’s memorial service in Las Vegas was a testament to Reid’s impact on some of the most important laws of the 21st century. President Joe Biden escorted Reid’s widow Landra Reid to her seat at the start of services before an honor guard carried a flag-covered coffin to the well of a hushed auditorium .

Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who described Reid to mourners on Saturday as a “truly honest and original character,” speaking at an invitation-only memorial for the longtime Senate leader. Former President Barack Obama, who credits Reid with his rise to the White House, delivered the eulogy. Vice President Kamala Harris was also present.

Reid died Dec. 28 at his home in Henderson, Nevada, aged 82 of complications from pancreatic cancer.

Biden served for two decades with Reid in the Senate and worked with him for eight years when Biden was vice president. Biden believed Reid was “one of the greatest leaders in Senate history,” White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Friday.

Schumer on Saturday mentioned the January 6 insurgency in Washington and the bravery shown by the Capitol Police officers, referring to Reid’s time as a Capitol Police officer while studying at George University. Washington.

“In many ways Harry was a keeper and steward of the Senate, literally and figuratively,” Schumer said.

Reid’s son Leif recalled his father’s well-known habit of abruptly hanging up on phone conversations without saying goodbye, sometimes leaving the other person – whether powerful politicians or family members close – chat for several minutes before realizing he was no longer there.

Leif Reid said it was “part of the story” of his father’s life and tried to explain that the gesture was more aimed at Reid in saving time for his family.

“When he hung up on you, maybe so quickly, it wasn’t so much about his bluntness as about his devotion to my mother,” said Leif Reid.

Obama, in a letter to Reid before his death, recalled their close relationship, their different origins, and Reid’s rise from a former depleted gold mining town in the Mojave Desert to leadership of Congress.

“Not bad for a poor skinny Searchlight boy,” Obama wrote. “I would not have been President without your encouragement and support, and I would not have achieved most of what I have done without your skills and determination.”

Reid served 34 years in Washington and led the Senate through a crippling recession and the Republican takeover of the House after the 2010 election.

He beefed up Obama’s health care law through the Senate; blocked plans for a national nuclear waste repository in the Nevada desert; author of a 1986 bill which created the Grand Bassin National Park; and was credited with helping casino company MGM Mirage gain financial backing to complete a multibillion-dollar project on the Strip during the Great Recession.

Harry Mason Reid hitchhiked 40 miles to high school and was an amateur boxer before being elected to the Nevada State Assembly at the age of 28. He was a graduate of Utah State University and worked nights as a United States Capitol Police Officer while dating George. Washington University Law School in Washington.

In 1970, at the age of 30, he was elected lieutenant governor of the state along with Democratic Governor Mike O’Callaghan. Reid was elected to the House in 1982 and to the Senate in 1986.

He built a political machine in Nevada that for years helped Democrats win key elections. When he retired in 2016 after an exercise accident at home left him blind in one eye, he chose former Nevada attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto to replace him.

Cortez Masto became Nevada’s first woman and the first Latina ever to be elected to the United States Senate.

“Above all, you’ve been a good friend,” Obama told Reid in his letter. “As different as we are, I think we both saw something of ourselves in each other – a few strangers who had defied the odds and knew how to take a punch and cared about the little one. guys.”

Singer-songwriter and environmentalist Carole King and Brandon Flowers, frontman of Las Vegas-based rock band The Killers, performed at the memorial.

Flowers, a longtime friend, shares the faith of Reids’ Latter-day Saints and has been headlining events such as a Lake Tahoe summit that Harry Reid founded in 1997 to draw attention to the ecology of the lake; and the National Clean Energy Summit which Reid helped launch in 2008 in Las Vegas.

Those flying to Las Vegas will arrive at the newly renamed Harry Reid International Airport. It was previously named after Pat McCarran, a former Democratic US senator from Nevada who once owned the airfield and whose legacy is clouded by racism and anti-Semitism.

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Associated Press writer Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.

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