Drawing on four decades of friendship with the family of the late U.S. Congressman Thomas P. Lantos, D-Calif., Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve paid tribute to the former chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs for his "legendary commitment to human rights and justice" and his inspiring example as a family patriarch. Elder Holland spoke on Feb. 1 during a celebration of the congressman's life.
Although Rep. Lantos died Feb. 11, 2008, the memorial service at the Congressional Cemetery near the U.S. Capitol provided an opportunity for family and friends to convene on his birthday and share stories about him as a political leader, human rights advocate, Hungarian gentleman, Jewish Holocaust survivor, economics professor and father. A recurring theme was his passionate belief in the human family.
Besides Elder Holland's keynote address, two Church members were among congressional colleagues offering reminiscences — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., admired the physical and moral courage that characterized Rep. Lantos' life, while Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, recalled Rep. Lantos' exemplary kindness and deep affection for his wife, Annette Lantos.
Describing how Rep. Lantos' experiences during his "harrowing young years" under Nazi oppression affected his temporal and spiritual outlook, Elder Holland said the man who emerged was fearless about his personal responsibility to make a difference in the world and to help those who could not defend themselves.
"Although he could not change the past, he believed that he most assuredly could shape the future," Elder Holland said, "and that meant, among other things, to cherish his family and to prepare them to give significant service to the world."
Elder and Sister Holland's relationship with the Lantos family began in 1970, during Elder Holland's doctoral candidacy at Yale as he befriended the Lantos' eldest daughter, Annette. She was an undergraduate and recent convert whose father was Jewish and whose mother had joined the Church 10 years earlier. Elder Holland fellowshipped Annette and taught her the gospel as both her home teacher and her Institute instructor.
A year later, Katrina, Annette's younger sister, joined her as a student at Yale. Initially certain she did not need to join the Church, Katrina attributed her conversion and baptism to the experiences she had with Elder Holland in the Institute classes he taught.
Introduced to their parents by the sisters, Elder Holland became a trusted, oft-consulted Lantos family friend.
Elder Holland described how his relationship with Rep. Lantos "blossomed" over the years as he witnessed the congressman's service to the public and his family.
"For Tom, the Holocaust became a metaphor for any inhumanity or unkindness or social ill in the world," said Elder Holland, underscoring the congressman's fight for justice, human dignity and the right of all people to be free from tyranny.
Just as impressive, Elder Holland said, was Rep. Lantos' "unparalleled and uncompromised" love and devotion to his wife and daughters. He described the congressman as "one of the most devoted and doting, the most caring and constant fathers and grandfathers I have ever known."
"That immense affection for and pride in his growing family were the ties that bound the two of us together and which give me such personal satisfaction today," he added.
As BYU looked to establish its Jerusalem Center, Rep. Lantos voiced his support to Israeli leaders. He spoke at BYU's commencement in 2001 and received an honorary doctorate degree.
The Lantos' eldest daughter, Annette Tilleman-Dick, lives in Colorado and is the mother of 12 children; her husband, Timber Dick, died in a car accident last year. Katrina and her husband, Richard Swett, a former congressman from New Hampshire, have seven children. Rep. Lantos ensured this close-knit, growing family was inclusive of others, and many at the service described how he had been a father-like figure in their lives.
"We had a great patriarch in my father, a powerful figure," said Sister Tilleman-Dick. "We're also grateful for the spiritual fathering and love Elder Holland has provided our family over the years."
Robert R. King — Rep. Lantos' chief of staff for 25 years and director of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs — was scheduled to join the program's many speakers; however; Brother King was injured in an accident the day before the memorial and was unable to attend.
Other speakers at the event included Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, several current or former ambassadors, professors, congressional staff members and friends from Hungary and Israel.