Begin forwarded message:
From: Matt Viser >
Date: June 7, 2016 at 7:59:56 PM EDT
To: Peter Velz >
Subject: Pool report #5 / remarks at funeral
Upon entering the church, a harpist was playing soft music. Pool was seated in the balcony, overlooking about 250 people sitting in wooden pews. At the front were several large bouquets of flowers. The casket, with more flowers atop it, had pictures of Cassandra Butts on both sides, one a drawing the other a photo (No cameras were allowed, so expect a lot of quotes below)
After the music played, POTUS entered with FLOTUS. As he came in, POTUS gave a warm handshake to Eric Holder, who sat behind him. Next to POTUS and FLOTUS was Valerie Jarrett.
Melvin Williams, a Harvard schoolmate (and "her work spouse"), started the service by asking the congregation to raise hands if she helped introduce them to someone new. Hands flew high.
Next he said, raise your hand if Cassandra helped you get a job. POTUS raised his hand extra high. The congregation laughed.
Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke next, recalling her first interaction with Cassandra, an early morning telephone call in late April 2009. It was rainy in New York, and the White House counsel's office wanted to talk to her.
"Even for a judge, that kind of call makes you a little nervous," Sotomayor said. When she called the counsel's office, Sotomayor recalled, "this beautiful, deeply melodious voice answered the phone and introduced herself as Cassandra Butts."
"She told me the White House had good reason to believe a Supreme Court justice was going to announce a retirement," she said. They wanted Sotomayor to consider being vetted.
She agreed, but grew annoyed at times about the in-depth nature of the process.
"Throughout, Cassandra listened. Because she listened like no other person ever does," Sotomayor said. "She let me rant and then calmed me into a compromise."
They grew friendly afterward, and a group of mutual friends regularly shared dinner, and a poker game.
"She was so perfect in so many ways. Always impeccable, and beautifully dressed," Sotomayor said. "But Cassandra was a lousy poker player."
"In our very last game…just a few weeks back, Cassandra went all in. With no cards," she recalled. "But you know? That is who Cassandra was. Someone who was all in for life, and with her cards always on the table."
POTUS was next, and gave an emotional and reflective 15 minute eulogy, remembering Butts as "a warrior for social justice, a warm and generous servant who devoted her life to bettering the lives of others. And an unbelievable friend."
"I first met Cassandra in a place that tends to stoke ones passions about social and economic justice: The financial aide line of law school," he recalled. They were standing in line and happened to be next to each other, filling out applications.
"I had no doubt I was doing something wrong," POTUS said. "She may have looked over my shoulder and said, 'I think that’s wrong.'"
"We bonded over the fact we were signing over our lives to Harvard and how long it would take us to pay off that debt we were about to accrue," he added. "Then we bonded over other things. We bonded over our love of jazz. We bonded over our love of Michael Jordan. Because she was a Tar Heel. And I was a Bull."
"We talked about the law and why were there," he said. They both, POTUS recalled, wanted to take the skills they learned in Cambridge and "help people on society's margins and improve their circumstances."
"I made a lot of great friends at Harvard," he added. "But Cassandra I relied on. I relied on for counsel, for encouragement."
And then: "I have a confession to make. I still possess some albums of hers. A Miles Davis album. A John Coltrane album. I’ve been listening to some of that music since she passed. In my defense, she kept one of my constitutional law books. But I think I got the better end of that trade. And that is true generally of Cassandra."
POTUS said that she again was instrumental when he arrived in Washington as a newly elected US senator from Illinois.
"I was 99th in seniority. But I did have a secret weapon, and that was I knew Cassandra. So I asked her for advice and she of course went farther than that and helped me hire a smart and dedicated team."
She introduced him to Pete Rouse, he said. She read early chapters of his book. They had dinner together once a month.
She was, POTUS said, both his "moral compass" and "a swiss Army knife." She was there whenever he needed her.
She helped him in his first days as president, designing some of his first executive orders and the ethics guidelines for his new staff.
"Every single White House appointee in those first days, every singe one, had to meet with Cassandra," POTUS said. "Every single one. That’s how much trust I had in her…In her feel for people. She was a person I trusted to make sure that everyone I hired understood the values of this administration."
They tried, he said, to execute the things that they had discussed long ago in law school.
"What we had imagined might be possible, that politics and government could be different," he said. "That this country could be better. That justice could be served. That it wasn’t a pipe dream, that it wasn’t something in the past. That something could actually be achieved."
"What better person to impart that message than Cassandra?" he continued. "What better person to impart on each of us that there’s something bigger than ourselves? That when you give to others, and you serve others, and you do right by others -- that that’s what fills you up. That’s what makes your life count."
He paused to catch a breath.
"She used that big wonderful deep laugh of hers to make you feel like, 'Yeah everybody’s gonna make mistakes, everybody's gonna screw up,'" he said. "She knew your best self, the person you couldn’t always claim to be, but the person you hoped to be. She saw that in you. And I know she made me better, and I believe she made us better."
Then, POTUS grew emotional as he spoke about her "a fundamental kindness."
"She was a kind person," he said, choking up. "It turns out, as you get older, kindness counts for a lot."
"She was my friend. She was as true a person as I ever met. I loved her dearly, and I will miss her badly. We pray that the Lord grants our sister Cassandra eternal peace."
As he walked to his seat, he wiped away tears.
Pool was escorted out of the church around 7:30pm, as POTUS and the rest of the congregation stayed.
The Boston Globe, Washington bureau
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