Service paints a gentler portrait

Anthrax suspect is remembered as inquisitive and kind

August 10, 2008|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

FREDERICK - In the days since Bruce Ivins committed suicide, federal authorities have portrayed him as a mentally ill man who had threatened to kill a social worker and was responsible for the deadly anthrax attacks of 2001.

Yesterday, as about 250 friends, relatives and colleagues filled the dark wooden pews at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Frederick, a very different portrait of the Army scientist emerged.

Ivins, 62, was remembered during the memorial service as a talkative man who liked to understand how everything around him worked. He studied the weather and knew different types of cloud formations. For 28 years, he was an active church member and musician. He enjoyed cartoons, 1950s rock music, using his chain saw to cut firewood and shooting at a range or at boxes and cans in the backyard. He volunteered for the Red Cross.

There was little mention of the allegations that brought a horde of reporters and photographers to stand on the sidewalk outside, save for a reading at the beginning of the service from the book of Job. The pastor, the Rev. Richard Murphy, said Job was falsely accused of sin and felt abandoned, just like Ivins.

As mourners filed into the Greek Ionic-style church, whose five-story bell tower makes it the tallest building in Frederick, soft piano music resonated throughout the sanctuary. At one point during the service, the pianist played a song that Ivins composed himself - the legacy of his mother's insistence that all three of her sons take piano lessons, said Charles Ivins, one of his two brothers. As boys growing up in Lebanon, Ohio, Bruce, the youngest brother, obeyed her order dutifully, he said.

The service lasted just over an hour, with sunlight streaming through light-yellow, arched stained-glass windows. Ivins' widow, Diane, asked people to talk about the different aspects of his complex life, and the speakers elicited several laughs from an otherwise solemn crowd as they described the scientist's offbeat sense of humor.

Twenty-three years ago, Ivins and his wife adopted 1-year-old twins, Amanda and Andy, and became close friends with a couple who had previously cared for the children as foster parents. The foster father, identified as Jim, recalled how he and Ivins would challenge their children to sports competitions outside their homes; the two friends called their team the "Geezers." Once, Ivins recruited Jim's daughter, who was about 12 at the time, to stand below him during a juggling performance where he was throwing knives into the air.

Ivins had worked since 1980 for the Army's institute for infectious diseases. Colleagues at Fort Detrick, where another memorial service was held earlier in the week, said Ivins made personal sacrifices as he worked to improve national security and was respected internationally. A prolific author, he had written 55 scientific articles. Though he worked long hours, he talked often about his pride in his children. Together with their mother, they held a reception after yesterday's ceremony.

One co-worker said Ivins enjoyed mentoring young scientists and liked to banter about most any subject. She said he would seem disappointed if she agreed with whatever position he was taking on a given issue and would change the subject as many times as necessary to find a lively topic of debate.

Charles Ivins, who referred to himself as "C.W," was the only relative to speak. He described his brother Bruce's compassion when he went repeatedly to visit a dying aunt, sitting with her and reading to her. He said he misses his brother but is glad his "torment" is over.

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