Alvah Chapman (1921 – 2008)

Alvah H. Chapman issued one last call for volunteers on Monday (Dec 29, 2008).

For decades, Chapman towered over South Florida — first as CEO and chairman of Knight Ridder, former parent company of The Miami Herald, then as a civic force who led efforts from Hurricane Andrew relief to helping the homeless.

He was a man to whom few ever said no.

Monday, some of South Florida’s most powerful and prominent leaders gathered at the First United Methodist Church of Coral Gables to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of Chapman, who died Christmas Day at age 87. More than 200 people at the memorial service heard Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, and then the call to continue Chapman’s work.

At the close, two horns played.

First came taps, a tribute to Chapman’s years at the Citadel as a young man.

Then came reveille, another bugle call, which marks the start of an event.

It was the single addition made to a service that the meticulously organized Chapman had planned before his death, from the Scriptures to the hymns, the Rev. Thom Shafer said afterward.

”In the Christian faith,” Shafer said, “we say that when life ends, your new life begins with Christ.”

The theme that echoed Monday: Chapman was a man of deep faith who found himself drawn to public service, even in retirement.

His commitment was the reason why, years later, Chapman was still associated with Knight Ridder and The Miami Herald even though his name had long been off the masthead, said Armando Codina, a prominent developer and civic leader.

”It was not the title that made Alvah,” Codina said. “It was his leadership, his character.”

Those paying their final respects Monday included former Gov. Jeb Bush, outgoing Florida International University President Modesto ”Mitch” Maidique and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami.

Even some who served with Chapman on the Orange Bowl Committee appeared — in their trademark bright orange jackets.

As Codina told the congregation, some South Florida executives retire to other states. Chapman retired to Coconut Grove.

Chapman stepped down as Knight Ridder’s CEO in 1989. Three years later, after Hurricane Andrew devastated South Miami-Dade, then-President George H.W. Bush urged Chapman to assemble what would become the effort called We Will Rebuild.

Later, Chapman noticed homeless people sleeping under an expressway near Coconut Grove and decided he would do something about it. That idea became the Community Partnership for Homeless, to which Chapman devoted much of his time during his later years.

”I remember the day he came in and, in his mind, formulated a plan that became [the partnership],” said his administrative assistant of 25 years, Jane Moreau.

The Community Partnership for the Homeless has been credited with expanding the number of beds for the homeless while reducing the number of homeless people on the street from 8,000 in 1993 to about 1,600 in 2007.

During the service, Shafer read aloud a letter from the Rev. Billy Graham.

”He was a great journalist, a wonderful churchman, and a wonderful family man,” Graham wrote. “It was a privilege for me to call him my friend.”

Afterward, mourners gathered at the Biltmore Hotel to remember the man whom many described as irreplaceable. For more than an hour, they stood in line in the hotel’s Granada ballroom, waiting to express their condolences to Chapman’s widow, Betty.

It was the Sunday before Christmas when Chapman told Betty he believed he would go back to the Lord on Christmas Day, said his daughter, Dale Webb. On Dec. 25, Chapman died.

”He is now organizing the angels,” former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence said, “to get them ready for the rest of us.”

Chapman is survived by his wife, two daughters and several grandchildren.

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