Former President Bill Clinton was among the mourners at the funeral of a prominent Des Moines doctor. Clinton began his remarks Thursday morning by addressing Dr. Steve Gleason’s family. “First I would like to thank you on behalf of Hillary and myself for giving us the chance to remember, praise and thank God for Steve’s life,” Clinton said.
Gleason served on Clinton’s health care reform task force in 1993. Gleason had recently battled health problems and an addiction to prescription drugs, and he committed suicide last weekend. Clinton said he and Hillary were home together last weekend when they were told of Gleason’s death. Senator Clinton sent a letter and her husband read parts of it.
“She says her heart is heavy and she will always miss your Steve,” Clinton told Gleason’s family. “We just loved the guy, although I must say I didn’t know what to make of him the first time I met him. I thought I had met, finally, the biological equivalent of the mythical perpetual motion machine.” Clinton’s observation drew laughter from the crowd.
Clinton said he was always “amazed” by Gleason’s optimism. “Sometimes when people give so much over and over again, they don’t keep back enough for themselves,” Clinton said. “I have only one request of every single person in this hallowed place today: we owe it to Steve Gleason to make sure he will be remembered not for how his life ended, but for how it was lived.”
Governor Tom Vilsack asked Gleason to head the Iowa Department of Public Health before naming Gleason as his chief-of-staff in 2002. Gleason left that job in late 2004 because of failing health. Vilsack told the crowd Gleason always lit up a room with his personality.
The priest who presided over the funeral noted that the Catholic Church teaches that suicide is wrong, but Monsignor Frank Bognanno said “death by his own hand” was not the action of the Steve Gleason he knew. That message of a God that grants mercy to those who have shown mercy was one that Clinton returned to in his closing comments. “Steve Gleason was a good man and a great man,” Clinton said. “The world is a better place because he lived.”