July 14, 2006 12:27:15 am
Just a few blocks from the glimmering skyscraper where Kenneth L. Lay turned Enron into a corporate juggernaut and later presided over its collapse, more than 1,000 people, including political and business leaders, gathered on Wednesday in a downtown church for a memorial service for Lay.
Lay, 64, the former chairman and chief executive of Enron, died on July 5 of coronary artery disease in Aspen. He was awaiting sentences on six counts of fraud and conspiracy and four counts of bank fraud connected to the failure of the company. Before his death, Lay indicated that he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes buried in Aspen, where a private memorial service was held on Sunday.
Among those in attendance on Wednesday at the First United Methodist Church were former US president George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara; James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state; Robert A. Mosbacher Sr, the former commerce secretary; and Drayton McLane Jr, the owner of the Houston Astros.
Lay’s criminal lawyer, Mike Ramsey, was also at the service, but Jeffrey K. Skilling, the former Enron chief executive and Lay’s co-defendant, who was convicted of 19 criminal counts in May, did not attend. He was at the service in Aspen.
The start of the Wednesday service was briefly delayed when Bob Lanier, the former mayor of Houston, collapsed in the church’s sanctuary after his heart defibrillator discharged, said Melinda Muse, a spokeswoman for St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital. Lanier, 81, was mayor of Houston for six years in the 1990’s and appeared as a character witness for Lay during his trial.
During the service, which was closed to the news media, friends and family lauded Lay as a God-fearing man dedicated to his family.
‘‘A lot of nice things were said about the man and the previous greatness he had,’’ said John Arnoldy as he left the church. Arnoldy, chief executive of the Triten Corporation, a privately held Houston engineering and manufacturing company, said he knew Lay for 20 years.
But some also expressed anger at the treatment of Lay. The Rev Bill Lawson, a Houston civil rights leader, said Lay was the victim of a lynching. ‘‘He was not the Ken Lay portrayed by the media, not the Ken Lay who was the butt of late-night jokes, not the Ken Lay who was convicted and vilified by a whole community,’’ he said.
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