Famous eulogies in history: Celebrating lives through words

Published: 26/9/2023 | Updated: 27/9/2023
Earl Spencer, left, said he had been ‘lied to’ over William and Harry’s involvement with the funeral and that he was ‘told that they wanted to do it’.
Earl Spencer, left, said he had been ‘lied to’ over William and Harry’s involvement with the funeral and that he was ‘told that they wanted to do it’.

Eulogies are true expressions of love, respect and remembrance. They have the power to capture the essence of a person's life, reflecting on their accomplishments, character and perhaps above all else, the impact they had on others.

Throughout history, there have been remarkable eulogies that have left an indelible mark on the hearts of those who heard them. In this article, we will explore just six famous eulogies and explore why they hold such significance.

1. Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

  • Who Said It: Abraham Lincoln
  • For Whom: Union soldiers who died in the Battle of Gettysburg
  • Year: 1863  
Illustration by John Tiedemann of US President Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States and victor of the first US Civil War.
Illustration by John Tiedemann of US President Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States and victor of the first US Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is a short yet profoundly moving eulogy delivered during the American Civil War. In just 272 words, Lincoln spoke about the principles of freedom, equality and democracy. He invoked the idea that the nation was "conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

Lincoln's eloquent and poignant words continue to resonate today, reminding us of the sacrifices made in the name of liberty and the enduring importance of preserving a united nation.

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

2. Mahatma Gandhi's Eulogy by Jawaharlal Nehru

  • Who Said It: Jawaharlal Nehru
  • For Whom: Mahatma Gandhi
  • Year: 1948
Indira’s father Jawaharlal Nehru (left) with Mahatma Gandhi at the All-India Congress committee meeting in Bombay, India, in July 1946.
Indira’s father Jawaharlal Nehru (left) with Mahatma Gandhi at the All-India Congress committee meeting in Bombay, India, in July 1946.

In the aftermath of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination in 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, delivered a poignant eulogy. Nehru's words conveyed the deep sense of loss felt by the nation and the world. He described Gandhi as the "father of the nation" and lamented the darkness that had descended with his passing. This eulogy captured the profound impact Gandhi had on India's struggle for independence and his enduring legacy as a symbol of nonviolent resistance and moral leadership.

"The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. 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, and a thousand years later that light will still be seen in this country, and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented the living truth … the eternal truths, reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom."

3. Steve Jobs' Eulogy by his Sister, Mona Simpson

  • Who Said It: Mona Simpson
  • For Whom: Steve Jobs
  • Year: 2011  
Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds up the new iPhone during his keynote address at MacWorld Conference & Expo in San Francisco. Picture: Paul Sakuma
Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds up the new iPhone during his keynote address at MacWorld Conference & Expo in San Francisco. Picture: Paul Sakuma

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Inc. and a visionary in the world of technology, received a touching eulogy from his sister, Mona Simpson, at his memorial service in 2011. Mona's eulogy provided an intimate look into the private life of the tech icon. She spoke of their shared experiences, Jobs' passion for simplicity and design, and his love for his family. Mona Simpson's eulogy humanised a man who had revolutionised the world through his inventions, revealing the more personal side of his public figure.

"Steve worked at what he loved. He worked really hard. Every day. That's incredibly simple, but true. He was the opposite of absent-minded."

4. Nelson Mandela's Eulogy for Walter Sisulu

  • Who Said It: Nelson Mandela
  • For Whom: Walter Sisulu
  • Year: 2003

Nelson Mandela, the iconic anti-apartheid leader and former President of South Africa, delivered a heartfelt eulogy for his friend and fellow freedom fighter, Walter Sisulu. Sisulu was a pivotal figure in the struggle against apartheid and had spent many years imprisoned alongside Mandela.

In his eulogy, Mandela praised Sisulu's unwavering commitment to justice and equality. He highlighted the sacrifices Sisulu made for the cause and the profound impact he had on the nation. This eulogy serves as a testament to the enduring bond of friendship and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

RELATED ARTICLE: Tribute to Nelson Mandela

"He was blessed with that quality that always saw the good in others, and therefore he was able to bring out the goodness. He had an inexhaustible capacity to listen to others, and therefore he was able to encourage others to explore ideas."

5. Princess Diana's Eulogy by Earl Spencer

  • Who Said It: Earl Spencer
  • For Whom: Princess Diana
  • Year: 1997  
Prince Philip, Prince William, Earl Charles Spencer, Prince Harry with Prince Charles walking in the funeral procession of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Prince Philip, Prince William, Earl Charles Spencer, Prince Harry with Prince Charles walking in the funeral procession of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The tragic death of Princess Diana in a car accident in 1997 shocked the world. At her funeral, her brother, Earl Spencer, delivered her eulogy. He spoke passionately about Diana's warmth, compassion and the challenges she faced as a member of the royal family.

Earl Spencer's eulogy drew attention to the media's role in Diana's life and death, emphasising the need for compassion and privacy for public figures. His words not only paid tribute to his sister but also raised important questions about the impact of fame and public scrutiny on individuals.

"Diana was the very essence of compassion, of duty, of style, of beauty. All over the world she was a symbol of selfless humanity. All over the world, a standard bearer for the rights of the truly downtrodden, a very British girl who transcended nationality."

6. Kobe Bryant's Eulogy by Michael Jordan 

  • Who Said It: Michael Jordan
  • For Whom: Kobe Bryant
  • Year: 2020  
Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

The tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash in 2020 sent shockwaves through the sports world. At Kobe's memorial service, fellow basketball legend Michael Jordan delivered a heartfelt eulogy. Jordan shared personal stories about their friendship highlighting the competitive spirit and mutual respect they shared. This eulogy celebrated Kobe's unparalleled work ethic and his impact on the world of basketball, illustrating the profound connections that are so often forged through the game.

"No matter where he saw me, it was a challenge. And I admired him because his passion, you rarely see someone who is looking and trying to improve each and every day, not just in sports, but as a parent, as a husband. I am inspired by what he's done, and what he's shared with Vanessa, and what he's shared with his kids."

The Importance of Eulogies

Eulogies hold a unique place in our cultural and emotional landscapes. They provide a platform for loved ones and leaders to express their feelings, share stories and commemorate lives. Here are some other reasons why eulogies hold the utmost importance:

1. Preserving memories

Eulogies allow us to preserve memories of our loved ones. They capture the essence of a person's life, ensuring that their legacy lives on.

2. Offering comfort and closure

Eulogies provide comfort to the grieving by acknowledging the pain of loss while celebrating the positive aspects of the person's life. They offer a sense of closure and a chance to say goodbye.

3. Sharing life lessons

Eulogies often share stories and life lessons from the departed, offering wisdom and inspiration to those in attendance. They remind us of the values and principles that are worth cherishing and a reminder to practise them ourselves.

4. Fostering unity

In moments of loss, eulogies can bring people together, helping them connect through shared memories and emotions. They reinforce the bonds of family and community.

5. Reflecting on legacy

Eulogies prompt us to reflect on our own lives and the legacy we wish to leave behind. They inspire us to live with purpose and make a positive impact on the world.

Famous Eulogies in History
Famous Eulogies in History

Famous eulogies in history are not just speeches; they are powerful expressions of love, remembrance and the impact of individuals on society. These speeches, delivered by family members, friends and prominent figures, serve as a testament to the influence of words in honouring those who have left us.

By Kirsten Jakubenko

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