An emotional former President Bill Clinton eulogized his longtime friend and advisor Vernon Jordan at a Tuesday memorial service, saying that in his civil rights work, in politics and in business, he was always in “the freedom business.”
Jordan had an uncanny ability to read people — and to inspire them, Clinton said.
“Vernon Jordan was worthy of our love and admiration because he was a man in full," Clinton said.
“He proved you did not have to choose between being good at business or law and believing they should be both more inclusive, more open, more on the forefront of positive social change," he said. “That you didn’t have to choose before standing up for what you believed is right, and treating everyone you met — including people you had no political agreements with — as a decent human being."
Jordan, an Atlanta native who rose from humble beginnings in the segregated South to become a champion of civil rights before reinventing himself as a Washington insider and corporate influencer, died March 1. He was 85.
After serving as field secretary for the Georgia NAACP and executive director of the United Negro College Fund, Jordan headed the National Urban League, becoming the face of Black America’s modern struggle for jobs and justice for more than a decade. He was nearly killed by a racist’s bullet in 1980 before transitioning to business and politics.
His friendship with Clinton took them both to the White House where Jordan was an unofficial aide to the president.
“Vernon Jordan knew the soul of America, in all of its goodness and all of its unfulfilled promise. And he knew the work was far from over,” President Joe Biden said in a statement shortly after Jordan's death.
Tuesday’s memorial service was held at Jordan’s law school alma mater, Howard University in Washington, D.C. The university’s board of trustees this week decided to name the Law School Library as the Vernon E. Jordan Jr. Esq. Law Library in honor of him.
“Vernon Jordan’s life embodied Howard’s motto of truth and service from his early beginnings as a lawyer to his work in the civil rights movement and later as an advisor to Presidents Reagan Bush, Carter and most prominently as a friend and advisor to President Bill Clinton,” Howard President Wayne A. I. Frederick said in a statement.
At Tuesday's memorial service, Clinton said that freedom was a hallmark of Jordan's life. In whatever he did, Clinton said, Jordan “tried to help us all be more free."
“He did it with the beauty of any classical artist or athlete," he said. “God we were lucky he was here, lucky he was our friend, lucky that in this imperfect world, he found us and we found him.”