Friends, family of Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., Esq., along with hundreds of admirers, attended a livestream tribute and memorial service for the late civil rights leader, businessman and adviser to several U.S. presidents on Tuesday.
Jordan, 85, died peacefully at home surrounded by his wife and family on March 1.
The program, held at Rankin Chapel on the campus of Howard University [HU] and hosted by HU and WHUT-TV, included a repeat viewing of the recent documentary, “Vernon Jordan: Make It Plain,” and tributes from Jordan’s daughter, Vickee Jordan Adams as well as several of his closest friends including former President Bill Clinton.
Vice President Kamala Harris, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Kenneth Chenault (former CEO and chairman of American Express), Ursula Burns (former CEO and chairwoman of Xerox) and Howard University President Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick also shared reflections about Jordan who rose from humble beginnings in the segregated South to America’s corporate boardrooms.
Born August 15, 1935, in Atlanta, Jordan excelled academically, matriculating at DePauw University in Indiana where he graduated in 1957 – the only Black student in his class – and then studying law at Howard University.
In related news, the Howard University Board of Trustees recently announced its unanimous decision, upon the recommendation of Dr. Frederick, to name the Law School Library as the Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., Esq. Law Library in honor of the Howard alumnus.
Dr. Bernard Richardson, dean of Howard University Rankin Chapel, began the memorial service by saying, “A mighty oak has fallen but what he left us will live forever.”
Jordan’s daughter Vickee mounted the podium first to talk about her father.
“He and my mother raised me to be best friends and much to the chagrin of my cousins and friends, I told them everything,” she said. “Everyone loved him but no one owned him. He belonged to God, to the struggle and to ordinary people.”
“He was an American original – one of those giants on whose shoulders we stood. I’ve heard that growing up, his mother would tell him time and time again, ‘don’t get too big for your britches.’ He never forgot that and even after becoming a leader on Wall Street, he never stopping working to open doors for those like him who had been shut out for so long.”
“One of my favorite gospel songs is ‘I Can Only Imagine.’ And I wonder, what would the world be like if my dad had not only been the president of Black folks – which is what some called him because of his work with the National Urban League – but president of all the people? I can only imagine how more beautiful our country would be,” she said.
More Moving Memories about Vernon Jordan
Other speakers featured during the memorial service shared their own memories of Jordan and the impact he had on their lives and the nation.
“He helped persuade me to become president of Howard University. We have to pick up his torch and carry it forward. He gave our alma mater shape and purpose,” Dr. Frederick said.
“I called him Mr. Jordan. We have been challenged to produce a sense of hope. He was a man who provided us with hope – he was a man of principles,” Bowser said.
National Urban League President Marc Morial described Jordan as “bold, blunt, funny, wise and authentically Black – that’s why we loved him so much,” Morial said.
“And he could cuss but he did so with harmony and rhythm. He created the State of Black America report in 1976 after former President Ford released a similar document that failed to include anything about the challenges faced in urban America. Vernon was so angry, that he said, ‘I will create my own damned report.’”
“While Vernon may sometimes have been the first, he never went alone. And whenever he was the first, he made sure to hold that door open so that it did no close. He must be remembered as a man for others,” Morial said.
Both Chenault and Burns said, “he was the best friend you could ever have.”
Finally, Clinton, clearly emotional, talked about his very good friend – one who he said was an integral part of his life as well as the lives of his wife, Hillary and daughter, Chelsea.
“I’m supposed to stand here and talk about a man I love and be presidential and grave, whatever that means,” he said. “I woke up around 3 a.m. this morning and finally came out of denial and began grieving – then celebrating. More than anyone I think I’ve ever known, he was a man who fully maximized his achievements.”
“Vernon was worthy of our love and admiration because he was a man in full. In the end, he was in the freedom business. And like Nelson Mandela, he realized that if he hated other people, he would never be free. He realized that reconciliation was better than resentment. Vernon’s life is a story of one man using his unique gifts to help us all become ‘more free’ – for him it was natural, like breathing.”
“And he did it with the beauty of a classical artist or athlete, with the theories of an Einstein. God, we were lucky he was here and lucky that he was our friend.
As they closed that coffin earlier, I just didn’t want to let him go. But I realize that there’s a season for everything. My friend, finally you are free. I will miss you and I will always love you. But now, you are free,” Clinton concluded.