Oct. 25 (UPI) -- Former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were among several prominent politicians who honored Elijah Cummings at a funeral Friday for the longtime Maryland congressman in Baltimore.
Obama praised Cummings in his eulogy as a man of great integrity and honor.
"Elijah Cummings came from good soil," Obama said, recalling the 12-term House representative being raised by parents who were sharecroppers. "And in this sturdy frame, goodness took root."
Obama called Cummings' parents the "proverbial salt of the earth" and said they "passed on that strength and that grit -- but also that kindness and that faith to their son."
He recalled that Cummings didn't wait for better times, but became a lawyer "to make sure that others had rights."
"Elijah's example: the son of parents who rose from nothing to carve out just a little something, a public servant who toiled to guarantee the least of us have the same opportunities that he had earned, a leader who once said he'd die for his people even as he lived every minute for them," Obama said.
"His life validates the things we tell ourselves about what's possible in this country, not guaranteed, but possible. The possibility that our destinies are not preordained but rather, through our works and our dedication and our willingness to open our hearts to God's message of love for all people, we can live a purposeful life."
He said Cummings imparted the lesson that "being a strong man includes being kind."
"There's nothing weak about kindness and compassion. There's nothing weak about looking out for others. There's nothing weak about being honorable. You're not a sucker to have integrity and to treat others with respect," he added. "It now falls on us to continue his work."
Cummings died Oct. 17 at age 68 due to complications from cancer. He lay in state at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, the first black U.S. lawmaker to receive the honor. Friday's service was held at Baltimore's New Psalmist Baptist Church, where Cummings attended services for almost 40 years.
"We all know now that at least until certain things happen, his legacy is how ardently he honored his oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," Clinton said.
"I love this man. I loved every minute I ever spent with him. I love every conversation we have had."
Earlier in the service, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings called her husband a man of the "utmost integrity."
"He had to work to fight for the soul of our country against very real corruption," she said in her eulogy. "It got infinitely more difficult in the last months of his life when he sustained personal attacks and attacks on his city."
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also spoke at Friday's service.
"Our Elijah was a huge champion for truth, justice and kindness in every part of his life," she said.
Bishop Walter S. Thomas Jr., who has served as the church's pastor since 1975, said he expected mourners at the service numbered in the thousands.
"For all those who pass through these doors, it has been very somber," Thomas told The Baltimore Sun. "We've lost a friend, a loved one, a member, a role model. You can roll out the whole list of nouns. He steps into all of them with big shoes."
On Wednesday, Cummings lay in repose at Baltimore's Morgan State University, where he delivered the commencement address in May.
"Your lives are in front of you," he told the graduating class at the historically black research university. "And so I beg you to go out and stand up for this democracy."