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'We'll miss you, Tom'

N.D. Gov. John Hoeven, right, and other casketbearers carry former UND president Tom Clifford's casket from St. Michael's Catholic Church in Grand Forks today after his funeral. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

To the bagpipe strains of the Marine Hymn, former UND President Thomas J. Clifford was carried Wednesday from St. Michael's Catholic Church, where the Rev. William Sherman called the combat veteran a peacemaker who "fashioned for life thousands of young men and women."

Gov. John Hoeven cited him as "one of the greatest North Dakotans in the history of our state, a towering figure. ... There will never be another like him."

Clifford, who arrived at UND in 1938 as a freshman student, rose through the ranks after his return from service in World War II, from instructor to professor to dean to vice president and, from 1971 to 1992, president.

He died Feb. 4 at his home on Reeves Drive at age 87.

Wednesday's 90-minute funeral culminated two days of ceremonial farewells, including a lying in state on campus Tuesday and a three-hour vigil at the church Tuesday night, and a week of often poignant individual remembrances.

After the service, about 500 people attended a reception at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Burial will be in the spring.

Saipan, Killarney

The service Wednesday at St. Michael's was nearly as eclectic as Clifford's life, with music ranging from the Ma-rine Hymn -- sung by Mark McLaurin, then echoed by the Winnipeg Police Pipe Band -- to traditional Catholic hymns and some of Clifford's favorite Irish tunes, including "Loch Lomond" and "Over in Killarney."

Hoeven and former Gov. George Sinner were among the pallbearers, and the near-capacity congregation included other former and current business leaders, top educators and officials -- many of them, such as Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, UND graduates.

Others who nearly filled the sanctuary were people who had labored in the ranks at the university or passed through as students, and they came to his funeral because Clifford knew and spoke their names or once did them a vital personal kindness.

"We say goodbye today to a truly remarkable person," said Sherman, a retired priest who said his association with Clifford goes back 50 years.

He officiated at Clifford's wedding to Gayle Kielty Kenville in 1986, he said, and he drew laughter when he told how the president enjoyed describing the ceremony as an example of how "we were just plain folks here in North Dakota" -- including when Sherman turned to organist Ethel Mohn in the balcony and hollered, "Hit it, Ethel!"

She was in the balcony, at the organ, again on Wednesday.

Sherman, a World War II veteran himself, spoke of the "shivers" he felt when listening to some of Clifford's sto-ries of combat, including lying in the sand at Saipan with a wound to his stomach.

"That's the sort of stuff that makes for seriousness of purpose" in later life, he said.

And the priest drew more laughter, knowing laughter, when he acknowledged that Clifford "was not a saint; lord knows, he stumbled ... sometimes very dramatically," and on occasion left the confessional "with a great deal of comfort."

But that may well have fed his "appreciation for common people" and his willingness to extend a helping hand and allow second chances, Sherman said.

'With us again'

Hoeven also celebrated Clifford's willingness to reach out and give someone who was foundering another chance to succeed. "He was immensely capable," the governor said, "and he truly cared about the students."

He recalled how the crowd at Ralph Engelstad Arena "rose as one and cheered and cheered and cheered" for Clifford when Hoeven presented him with the state's highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, in 2002.

"He will be with us again," Hoeven said, at a hockey game in the REA "or when we see a UND plane overhead," or at any number of times, places or events when part of his legacy is apparent.

After a haunting chorus of "Danny Boy" sung by Maria Williams-Kennedy, the pipers swung into a medley of "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "Over There," "Red River Valley" and "America the Beautiful" as the casket was brought to the church doors, carefully covered with an American flag and taken from the sanctuary.

"We'll miss you, Tom," Hoeven said. "God bless you, and thank you."