Posted: Feb. 27, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

A white, circus-like party tent was pitched at the Vicmead Hunt Club in the heart of Chateau Country, and the U.S. flag outside was at half-staff.

A touch of joy, a touch of sorrow. It was time to say fare-thee-well to Laird Stabler.

Hundreds came out Wednesday to pay their last respects to Stabler, the beloved gentleman of Delaware politics, during a short memorial service held three days after he died of oral cancer at the age of 77 in his Montchanin home.

It had to be in a tent at Vicmead. Stabler was an outdoorsman who loved to fish and hunt and golf. He married into the du Pont family, and this was their neighborhood. He was a red-blooded Republican, and this was the site of countless political events.

An open bar awaited. That was Stabler, too. A twinkle and a jest and a bourbon or two.

The overcast sky was the shade of his silvered hair, and the wind was as brisk and rattling as it is in the Highlands of his proud Scot heritage, but the vast tent was made cozy with heaters and the intimacy of shared mourning.

The people inside formed a huge tapestry of Stabler's sprawling life -- family and friends, some in kilts, and an array of colleagues from his days as a state legislator, attorney general, U.S. attorney for Delaware and Republican national committeeman.

He was the laird of Delaware, as the Scots might say. So they came, these folks who seemed gladder to have known him than sad that he was gone:

Pete du Pont, the former governor who was on the 1970 Republican ticket as a rookie candidate for Congress when Stabler ran for attorney general. Tom Evans and Hal Haskell, both Republican ex-congressmen. Dave Buckson, the Republican attorney general who hired Stabler as a deputy.

Beau Biden, the Democratic attorney general. Colm Connolly, the Republican U.S. attorney, and Carl Schnee, a Democrat who had the post before him. Tom Wagner, the Republican auditor. Jack Markell, the Democratic treasurer running for governor.

John Brady, the Republican candidate for insurance commissioner, showed off a political button from Stabler's campaign for attorney general. Rick Bayard, a former Democratic state chair, had one from his friend's run for the state House of Representatives.

The memorial service, a compact 40 minutes, was led by Cam Yorkston, a family friend in a kilt. He recalled Stabler as someone "you could absolutely trust," someone whose steadfastness was reminiscent of the late John Williams, a Republican known as the "Conscience of the Senate."

"Perhaps Laird should one day be recognized as the 'Conscience of Public Service," Yorkston said. "He was a Delawarean for all seasons."

Stabler also was remembered as a hunter, and not just the one in the duck blind, but the one who went after a squirrel terrorizing his bird feeder but spared it because of the holiday season, and also the one who hunted out and collected 14 corkscrews, eight golf putters and one hand-held, battery-operated bug zapper.

It ended with a round of applause so loud and heartfelt that if there was any way for Stabler to hear it, he would have.

One final touch branded this gathering as Stabler's and no other. There was a car parked right beside the door to Vicmead, and it had a sign on its roof: "John McCain for president."

Leave it to Laird Stabler to find a way beyond his last breath to say, "Vote Republican."