Posted: May 8, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

A front parlor is not the place for a funeral anymore, but the memorial service for Edie Hemphill had the sense of one.

Hundreds of people came to pay their respects Saturday on a bright springtime afternoon at the Felton Community Fire Hall, which might as well have been her home.

It was the place where Edie, a Delaware Democrat, Kent County clerk of the peace and all-around first friend of Felton, worked countless community, political and church dinners as a  member of the ladies auxiliary, piling plate upon plate with chicken salad and slippery dumplings, the boiled rolled dough that downstate is known for.

That fire hall was hers. It was hard to be there without hearing her laughter.

Edith M. Hemphill died Tuesday at 67. Friends and family said she felt ill Monday, checked into the Milford Memorial Hospital the next day and had a heart attack after she was transferred to Christiana Hospital in Stanton.

Cell phones and land lines lit up all over the state, and the shock had not worn off by the time of the service. "I couldn't believe it. I just sat there. I thought, this couldn't be," said Leah W. Betts, the Democratic state vice chairwoman.

The thing about Edie was, she seemed like life itself. People loved to be around her. She was the heart of a party. She made wedding bells ring. She was fun.

Edie was not one of those people who left only footprints. She married more than 7,000 couples. She wrote a history of Felton. She was such a presence in Kent County that when she was elected in 1978, she might as well have been made clerk of the peace for life, because as it turned out, she was.

Edie had an irreplaceable way of turning the merciless world of politics into an act of kindness. It did not necessarily stop with Democrats.

Ross Trader, the Kent County Democratic chairman, remembered how Edie would turn her house into home base. "On Election Day, she always had a pot of soup on. You always knew where to go eat," he said.

Patrick W. Murray, the Kent County Republican chairman, felt Edie's personal touch in 2002. "My wife ran against her, and they ended up friends. When Cathy called to concede, Edie said she should have called, because Cathy was such a nice person," he said. "Edie was as well loved inside the Republican Party as the Democratic Party."

Kent County brought out its best to say good-bye. There were eulogies from Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a Milford Democrat, and Myron T. Steele, a Dover Democrat just confirmed as chief justice. The mourners included state legislators, county officials and party leaders.

U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. was asked to speak, but he had an unbreakable invitation to a Democratic dinner in Missouri, and a staff member said the travel arrangements simply could not be worked out, not even with a helicopter.

It fell to Charles E. "Chucky" Ivins Jr., a family friend so close he was called an adopted son, to convey Edie's essence while he fought his tears and described what it was like to be in her company.

"When we would enter a room, everything would stop. I often felt like I was traveling with the queen of Delaware," Ivins said. "I believe a 'no trespassing' sign to Edie meant 'welcome, come on in.' She would tell them we were from the historical society."

State Sen. Nancy W. Cook, a Kenton Democrat who was Edie's friend of friends, did not speak. She said she could not have gotten through it. They were friends who had each other's back, who caught each other's eye, who made life a cabaret.

"It couldn't be done if we didn't do it," Cook said.

One thing about Edie and life, she never got cheated.