Tears, memories flow in farewell to Al Sanders 'my dear Albert'


Television anchorman Al Sanders' funeral was fit for a dignitary, with police cars and motorcycles lining the streets of Columbia, and television crews waiting for glimpses of well-known politicians who came to pay their respects.

But inside the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center -- in Columbia where he lived -- more than 600 mourners heard eulogies for Al Sanders, the reliable colleague, the jazz fan, the great father who played silly jokes on his children.

The award-winning anchorman, who was at WJZ-TV for more than two decades, died Friday of lung cancer. He was 54.

Mr. Sanders was eulogized by his daughter, two sons, a niece, a nephew, WJZ-TV vice president and general manager Marcellus Alexander, his co-anchor and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, not so much for his professional accomplishments on television, but for his family life and his loyalty to friends.

Mr. Sanders' daughter, Tisha Gay, told about a disastrous family camping trip and how her father once embarrassed her slumber party by shouting into a bullhorn while they were watching a scary movie.

The mourners also heard about Mr. Sanders' early career on St. Louis radio where he worked 24 hours straight, changing his voice between shifts and before commercials.

Sitting in the cavernous brick hall, the mourners surrounded Mr. Sanders' portrait and his shiny brown casket, which was topped with a large arrangement of white tulips, lilies and roses, mingled with spring-green ferns.

A large crucifix on the wall was draped in a red cloth. The Coppin State Choir sang between tributes.

The mood was somber, but controlled, with many moments of humor coming through in the eulogies. It wasn't until Mr. Sanders' co-anchor Denise Koch began her tribute for "my dear Albert" that tears began to flow throughout the hall.

Ms. Koch's voice shook with grief as she remembered her television partner of the past eight years.

"In a vain and shallow world, he was neither . . . Albert was a humble man, and he didn't like a lot of fuss," she said.

Ms. Koch choked back tears as she talked of Mr. Sanders' messy, dusty desk at the television station, his "dancing the light fandango" down the hall when he was in a particularly good mood, and her dismay at not having said goodbye to him before he died.

"In our pain and in our emptiness, we must think of this transcendent soul as he floats free now," she said.

In ending her tribute, Ms. Koch said, "Goodbye Albert, we are all so grateful for the time we had together."

A procession led by state police motorcycles and several white limousines waited outside the interfaith center for the pall bearers -- who included former Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- to escort Mr. Sanders' coffin to Arbutus Memorial Park.

A smattering of loyal TV viewers sat in a hallway and nearby amphitheater to hear the service.

Rosalie Sanuda, a Columbia resident and Sanders viewer since moving to Maryland in 1988, said she decided to come to the service partly out of curiosity.

"Al was like part of our family," she said. "We'd always watch him while eating dinner. He was my favorite newscaster in Baltimore. It's very sad that he's gone -- hard to believe. The TV news won't seem the same to me."

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