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Speaking for the dead: History’s most powerful eulogies

by | Aug 16, 2016 | For Families

How can you capture the life of a person in one speech?

Eulogies are never easy, but when done right, they can have powerful effects. A eulogy is a ritual that can inspire, unite, and comfort us. Here are some that do just that.

Inspire Us

Steve Irwin

When Steve Irwin passed away in 2006, his daughter Bindi delivered the eulogy. It was short, simple, sweet — and very moving. Bindi spoke to the world about her father’s important work in preserving wildlife and what her father meant to her personally. “My daddy was my hero,” she said. Listen to the eulogy here.

Rosa Parks

The eulogy for Rosa Parks was delivered by Oprah Winfrey. Oprah’s stirring speech told of how she grew up idolizing Rosa Parks for her unwavering courage during the Civil Rights era. When looking back on Rosa Parks’ life, Oprah said: “here was this petite, almost delicate lady who was the personification of grace and goodness.” Listen to the eulogy here.

Unite Us

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The speech was given by Robert Kennedy shortly after the assassination of MLK. RFK gave the speech out of a flatbed truck in Indianapolis and the speech wasn’t planned or even recommended. The police and staff warned RFK that there might be violence after hearing about the assassination and they couldn’t provide adequate protection. But after RFK delivered the news of MLK’s death, the crowd in Indianapolis was the only city where riots didn’t occur that night. Listen to the eulogy here.


Gandhi’s life was ended by violence, the very thing he advocated against. After his assassination, his eulogy was delivered by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. It was delivered without any planning and inspired India to come together in the face of tragedy. Nehru explained the importance Gandhi had in shaping the country, “for the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years.” Listen to the eulogy here.

Comfort Us

Challenger Crew

When the space shuttle crashed in 1986, Ronald Reagan canceled the previously planned State of the Union address in order to address the nation about the death of the seven crew members. The eulogy talked about the courage of the crew members and the noble efforts of everyone working in NASA and space exploration. Reagan’s address was able to comfort the nation, as well as inspire them. “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.” Listen to the eulogy here.

Eulogizing Family

Lorna Colbert

Eulogies also can serve as a moment of self-reflection. When Lorna Colbert passed away, her son Stephen offered a moving tribute on his TV show, The Colbert Report. The eulogy reminds us how a parent’s love shapes the people we become. In a passionate closing of the eulogy, Colbert tells the audience, “We were the light of her life, and she let us know it ‘til the end.” Listen to the eulogy here.

Are there any eulogies that have stuck with you over the years? Share with us your favorites in the comments below!


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