WASHINGTON, DC -
Hundreds of people turned out for the funeral of a long-time employee of D.C. who died of a heart attack across the street from a city fire station.
Although the funeral for Medric Cecil Mills, Jr. was mostly a joyous celebration of the 77-year-old man's life, there were both oblique and candid references to the lack of a prompt response from D.C. emergency workers.
At Caanan Baptist Church on 16th Street, NW, it was a coming home for Medric Cecil Mills, Jr. As a child, he had sung in this church's children's choir. His father was a minister, here, and the block is named for his father.
Cecil Mills, as most people called him, worked for 47 years for D.C.'s Department of Parks and Recreation. On January 25th, Mr. Mills keeled over of a heart attack across the street from a D.C. fire station, where personnel refused to respond despite being asked to help by three different people.
A supervising lieutenant has since resigned, and a fire department investigation has been launched.
Several city council members made a point of attending Mr. Mills' funeral, including Vincent Orange (D -- at-large), who told reporters outside the church, "[Fire personnel at the nearby station] said there should have been a call to 911," said Orange. "Well, there's a person dying right there. Forget the call. Let's go and provide the service and deal with the circumstances later."
During the service, Cecil Mills, Jr. was remembered as a Navy veteran, a man who was married to his wife Sandra for 54 years, a loyal city employee, and an avid fan of ribs and the Washington Redskins.
Inside the church, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson referred to the biblical "shining city on the hill." -- a city, he said, that sometimes falls short. (The Mills family had asked that cameras be kept out of the funeral, so Council Chair Mendelson repeated his comments outside on the street: "In my view, it speaks to how a city should stand proud, and how a city should be everything it can be for its citizens. And sometimes that's an ideal we don't live up to.")
Mayor Vincent Gray, who spoke at length during the funeral, was blunter. Gray said, although he's generally proud of D.C., the circumstances in this case are an "embarrassment". Mayor Gray told the mourners his administration will soon find a way to "remember" a man who devoted almost his entire working life to the District of Columbia.
A fire department investigation of the incident is still underway. And the D.C. Council has scheduled a hearing later this month on the issue of fire department policies on calls for help.