On a gloriously warm and sunny afternoon, the people of Indiana and the family handed Richard Green Lugar to his maker and into the pantheon of Senate statesmen.
The ceremony at St. Lukes United Methodist Church, one that was forged by Sen. Lugar and his wife Char, had the feeling of a state funeral with Chief Justice John Roberts, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a half dozen of Sen. Lugar’s colleagues, and Hoosier leaders in attendance.
“It’s the end of an era,” Vice President Mike Pence said, noting something you’ve read in this column, that Lugar’s passing came quickly after that of Sen. Birch Bayh.
The two join a list of giants in the historic Senate pantheon that include Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, Robert Taft, Robert La Follette Sr. and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. These men steered the nation in profound ways and fueled the soul of mankind’s most dynamic republic.
“He’ll be remembered among with the pantheon of senators who commanded the respect of his peers of both parties and who exercised enormous influence in foreign affairs,” Pence said. “His contributions to our nation are countless.”
Included were the 7,500 Soviet era nuclear warheads that the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program eliminated, or the securing of chemical and biological weapons that could have killed every human many times over.
His partner, former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, said, “Indiana and our nation were very fortunate to have Dick Lugar as a public servant. I was very fortunate to have him as my trusted partner and friend. Cooperation and compromise is often misunderstood today. Some take it to mean giving up on principles. Dick Lugar never compromised his principles. Dick made the world a safer place and a better place.”
Nunn related the historic opportunity where the pair were trying to convince Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine to give up their nuclear weapons after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They met with Ukraine President Leonid Makarovych Kravchuk in the fall of 1992, knowing that if that nation gave up its weapons, the others would follow. After arduous talks “as darkness fell, President Kravchuk escorted us out. He had all the news media gathered and he announced Dick Lugar had just committed $175 million,” Nunn recalled. Lugar and Nunn were stunned, but “offered no serious rebuttal.”
“Fortunately,” Nunn said, “President Bush later signed off on Sen. Lugar’s unauthorized and unconstitutional offer.” On later trips, Nunn would look at Lugar and say, “Dick, did you bring your checkbook?” These two operated on a global stage, working with heads of state, on dilemmas that often seemed intractable, solutions elusive.
Listening to those who eulogized Lugar established an important benchmark for our nation. Purdue President Mitch Daniels, who was Lugar’s chief of staff, said, “He was as stunningly rare a person as he was a public servant,” a man “with a set of principles grounded in patriotism and a commitment for equal opportunity for every American to rise and flourish.”
“Something more fundamental took precedence,” Daniels continued. “It was the pride of association with a man so stellar, so singular, so exemplary in both his professional and personal life that one enjoyed a sense of personal respect by reflection. If Dick Lugar ever had an ill-tempered moment, I never saw it; if he ever spoke an unkind word about anyone, I never heard it; acted out of raw selfishness, I never witnessed it.”
Sen. McConnell added, “People came first, he met everyone where they were, from street corners to church basements of this city during the civil rights era, to the halls of the Senate and beyond.”
McConnell told the story of Lugar being approached by a woman at a Lincoln Day Dinner. “Sen. Lugar, I’m sure you don’t remember me,” the woman said. Lugar responded, “Of course I remember you, Mary, and I think you were wearing that same lovely dress the first time.”
“Talk about scoring some points the first time then giving them right back,” McConnell said as the sanctuary erupted in laughter.
McConnell compared Lugar to the biblical Lazarus, who lived beyond the tomb. “The recipient of this miraculous grace didn’t hole up in some monastery. He dove into public service, rolled up his sleeves, he tended to the sheep, he repaid God’s generosity by serving others by making the church and the world better.” Lugar, he said, “took the blessings poured out on him and poured them back to serving others.”
Jim Morris, who was Lugar’s first mayoral chief of staff and later headed the United Nations Food Program, added, “Dick Lugar had a brilliant way of offering an idea, and he was as comfortable in dealing with other people’s ideas as he was with his own.”
Bearing witness to leadership today, where truth has morphed into “alternative facts,” where principles are disposable and festering problems are kicked to future generations that will lack the flexibility and assets we have today, my prayer as I stood in this magnificent church Dick and Char Lugar helped to create, is that future leaders will emerge who approach the promise and determination of our dearly departed.
Brian A. Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.