Hundreds of Brazilians filed through the presidential palace Wednesday to honor former Vice President Jose Alencar, a man who earned respect by rising from poverty through hard work and by sharing with the public his struggle with cancer.
The public wake was preceded by a Mass attended by Brazil's figures, as well as Alencar's family. He died Tuesday in a Sao Paulo hospital after fighting abdominal cancer since 1997. He was 79.
Alencar served two terms under President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. He was born poor, but became a multimillionaire as the founder of one of the largest textile businesses in Brazil, counting Wal-Mart among his clients, with a fortune estimated at some $200 million.
President Dilma Rousseff and Silva cut short a trip to Portugal to return for ceremonies honoring Alencar.
Alencar's body was moved to Brasilia from Sao Paulo, where he died. The crowd gathered outside the Sirio-Libanes Hospital clapped respectfully when his body was taken away.
In Brazilia, mourners filed past his open casket, many visibly moved by the death.
His colleague in Silva's government, former Foreign Minister Celso Amorin said during the ceremony that Alencar was an inspiration personally and as a politician.
"He had a career that started with a very humble childhood and he became a successful entrepreneur without losing his simplicity, his humility," said Amorin.
The president of Congress, Marco Maia, said Alencar "represents the hope that the country can continue to advance, growing and improving the quality of life of our people."
Alencar was also respected for his candid discussions about the cancer he struggled with for 13 years.
Initially elected through the conservative Liberal Party, he was chosen by Silva as a running mate to reassure the business class and foreign investors who were wary of Silva's leftist past. He became one of Silva's most steadfast supporters.
Silva cried when he learned of Alencar's death, telling journalists in a press conference in Coimbra, Portugal, that the achievements of his eight years in office would not have been possible without him.
"Few human beings have the soul Alencar had, his kindness, his loyalty," said Silva.
Rousseff decreed a week of mourning in Alencar's honor.
Associated Press reporter Juliana Barbassa contributed to this report from Rio de Janeiro.