Mourners pay last respects to Puerto Rico's 'gentleman of politics'
Crowds in San Juan bid a fond farewell Wednesday to former Gov. Luis A. Ferré, who died a day earlier at the age of 99.
BY MANUEL ERNESTO RIVERA
Crowds in San Juan applauded along the streets, threw flowers and waved U.S. and Puerto Rican flags as the hearse led a procession to the legislature overlooking the Atlantic, where for decades Luis A. Ferré wielded influence in debates about the island's status.
Ferré, 99, died Tuesday of respiratory failure after being hospitalized for weeks with pneumonia. The venerated ''Don Luis'' played a prominent role in the Caribbean island's politics since World War II, pursuing his dream of U.S. statehood while overseeing his charitable foundation.
''He's the best governor Puerto Rico has ever had,'' said Ana Margarita Hernández, 80, saying that years ago she received her first Christmas bonus as a public employee thanks to Ferré.
President Bush issued a statement saying Ferré was ''a distinguished statesman and a great American,'' as well as ``a good friend of my family.''
In recent years Ferré remained chairman of the island's branch of the U.S. Republican Party.
Former President George Bush, who awarded Ferré the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991, said he lost ``a treasured friend.''
''He was one of the most generous people we knew, a truly great philanthropist,'' the elder Bush said in a statement.
The funeral was initially planned for today in the southern city of Ponce but was rescheduled for Friday to allow an additional viewing at the Ponce Museum of Art, grandson Antonio Luis Ferré Rangel said. Ferré opened the museum in his birthplace in 1959 with 71 paintings from his own collection. Today it holds more than 3,000 works.
Hundreds lined up to pay respects outside the Capitol, where
Ferré was Senate president from 1977-80. Ana Gloria David, 70, said
Ferré was the island's "gentleman of politics.''