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Muhammad Ali was more than a fighter and more than a hero. He was a symbol.
Even in his waning days, as the boxing legend struggled with Parkinson's disease, he showed the rest of us that we are all mortal.
Sen. Orrin Hatch offered that message Friday in a eulogy at Ali's funeral in Louisville, Ky., as a handpicked speaker by Ali to pay tribute to the champion of the ring and social justice.
"Ali was the greatest because as a debilitated yet unbroken champion in his later years he pointed us to a greatness beyond ourselves, a greatness beyond even Ali," Hatch said. "He pointed us to the greatness of God."
Hatch, a Mormon, and Ali, who had converted to Islam, were different in many ways, the Republican Utah senator acknowledged, but he said that their differences "fortified" their friendship.
Even as the greatest fighter of all time, Hatch said, Ali's later crippling and life-changing disease served as a reminder that even the toughest can be meek.
God "allowed Ali to wrestle with Parkinson's disease, an inescapable reminder that we are all mortal and that we are all dependent on God's grace," Hatch said. "Ali believed this himself. He once told me, 'God gave me this condition to remind me always that I am human and that only He is the Greatest.' "
Hatch noted that Ali once joined him to listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and hundreds of Latter-day Saints lined up to meet the legendary boxer. He gave them each an autographed pamphlet about Islam.
"I took one for myself," Hatch said. "I respected his deeply held convictions just as he respected mine, and our relationship, it was anchored by our differing faiths."
Another time, Hatch said, Ali came to Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City and visited with cancer-stricken and otherwise pained kids whose moods changed instantly when the champ entered. They grinned from ear to ear, Hatch said.
"Ali had a special way with kids," the senator added.
Hatch was one of a dozen or more speakers and performers at Ali's funeral. Family members said the boxer had planned his own service.
Hatch, who says he first met Ali when the boxer made an unplanned visit to his Capitol Hill office, said it was an honor to be included.
The Utah Republican noted during his remarks that Ali didn't try to pick sides in politics and looked beyond labels.
"Ali didn't look at life through the binary lens of Republican [and] Democrat so common today," Hatch said. "He saw worthy causes and shared humanity. In Ali's willingness to put principles ahead of partisanship, he showed us all the path to greatness. And I'll never forget that greatness, nor will I ever forget him."