HOUSTON (AP) – Enron Corp. founder Kenneth Lay was a high-powered businessman, philanthropist and family man who didn’t succumb to despair despite the scandal that destroyed his company and left him a vilified felon, friends and family members said at a memorial service Wednesday where mourners included former President George Bush.

Lay’s 90-minute service drew some of the high-profile guests who were close to him before he was convicted in May of fraud and conspiracy for lying to investors and the public about the energy company’s financial health. Enron collapsed in late 2001.

Neither the Bushes nor former Secretary of State James Baker III, Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr. and noted heart surgeon Denton Cooley spoke. The Bushes sat directly behind Lay’s wife, Linda.

Instead, Lay’s family and friends sought to show a kinder view of him than had been seen publicly since the company’s collapse. Some expressed bitterness over their – and Lay’s – steadfast belief that he was wrongly convicted in one of the biggest corporate frauds in history.

“I am angry because of the way he was treated in the last five years of his life, and I think I’ll leave it there, leave it at that,” said Lay’s stepson, David Herrold, who attended much of the four-month trial.

“I am glad he’s not in a position anymore to be whipped by his enemy,” Herrold said to the hundreds in attendance at Houston’s First United Methodist Church, which Lay attended for 12 years.

His mother, Linda Lay, dabbed tears with a handkerchief.

Lay died of heart disease July 5 in Aspen, Colo., where he was vacationing with his wife. About 200 friends and family, including his co-defendant, former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling, attended a small memorial service there on Sunday. But Skilling decided not to attend Wednesday’s service because of heavy media coverage, said his attorney, Daniel Petrocelli. His wife, former Enron corporate secretary Rebecca Carter, attended both services.

As guests entered the sanctuary, they passed a framed photo of a smiling Lay wearing a red Enron T-shirt, blue athletic shorts and gym shoes. Two large bouquets of sunflowers sat on either side of the pulpit, while two burning candles sat on each side of an open Bible in the center.

The Rev. Bill Lawson, prominent pastor of the African-American Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, said the Lay he knew wasn’t the target of late-night TV jokes or a pariah. Lawson called Lay a “victim of a lynching” and praised mourners for staying friends with him through the scandal.

“The folks who don’t like him have had their say. I’d like to have mine and I don’t care what you think about it,” he said, eliciting brief applause. “Now his grandchildren won’t ask, “Why is Papia in jail?’ No more persecution. That is behind him,” Lawson said.

Lawson evoked leaders who he said were vilified in life but vindicated by history, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and “our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Minutes before Wednesday’s service began, shrieks pierced the sanctuary as Lay friend and former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier, 80, collapsed in an aisle. Carter and Lawson comforted Lanier’s distraught wife, Elyse, before paramedics whisked him to a hospital, where he was in stable condition with an irregular heartbeat.

Lay and Skilling were the faces of Enron throughout the company’s meteoric rise from a stodgy pipeline company to a powerhouse energy trader.

Their reputations shattered alongside the company as their images switched from business visionaries to perpetrators of fraud that fueled a spectacular crash that evaporated $60 billion in market value and left thousands jobless.

A jury convicted Lay of six counts of fraud and conspiracy and Skilling of 19 of 28 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors. Lay also was convicted of bank fraud and lying to banks in a separate, non-jury trial related to his personal banking.

Lay died awaiting their Oct. 23 sentencing, and his lawyers are expected to ask a judge to erase his conviction because his death left his case unfinished. Skilling still faces sentencing on that date and could be ordered to serve decades in prison.

Beau Herrold, another Lay stepson who manages the family’s finances, read from a letter he had begun writing to U.S. District Judge Sim Lake that he intended to deliver before Lay’s sentencing.

In the letter, he described Lay as a devoted husband, father, grandfather and brother who “always found a way to make time for family.” Lay is survived by his wife, children, two sisters and 12 grandchildren.


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