As former Senator Bob Dole is laid to rest, his Kansas roots shine through.
“Dwight Eisenhower said America is best described by the word ‘freedom’- it’s an all-purpose sort of word, one that we salute like the flag on the Fourth of July, even if no two of us define it in exactly the same way,” wrote former Senator Bob Dole in his final op-ed, began by hand in October, finished in November, and published after his passing on Sunday.
In it, Dole wrote about America’s squabbles over the meaning of freedom, calling it the, “perpetual tug of war between those on the left who look to an activist government to broker economic security and a level playing field without which democratic capitalism can degenerate into mere survival of the fittest, and those on the right who pursue freedom from — especially from heavy-handed dictation, stifling taxes or overregulation that can smother individual initiative and discourage social mobility.”
Dole was concerned, as so many astute political observers are, about the level of incivility in politics today. None of this was in evidence at his funeral service on Friday, however, where Republicans and Democrats stood shoulder to shoulder to mourn his passing in a rare showing of public unity.
“In his final days, Bob made it clear that he was deeply concerned about the threat to American democracy. Not from foreign nations, but from the division tearing us apart from within,” President Joe Biden said at the funeral service.
“And this soul reminded us, and I quote, ‘Too many of us have sacrificed too much in defending freedom from foreign adversaries to allow our democracy to crumble…under a state of infighting that grows more unacceptable day by day,’” said President Biden.
“I found Bob to be a man of principle, pragmatism and enormous integrity,” Mr. Biden continued. “He came into the arena with certain guiding principles. To begin with, devotion to country, to fair play, to decency, to dignity, to honor, to literally attempting to find the common good.”
“There’s something that connects that past and present, wartime and peace, then and now — the courage, the grit, the goodness and the grace of 2nd lieutenant named Bob Dole, who became congressman Dole, Senator Dole, statesman, husband, father, friend, colleague, and a word often overused but not here, a genuine hero,” eulogized the President.
“Bob Dole was a Kansas native son,” former Senator Pat Roberts intoned with obvious pride before launching into an especially moving tribute to his late friend and fellow Kansan.
“He along with his hero, Dwight David Eisenhower, are Kansas’ favorite son and they represent the vision and the promise of America.” Roberts told the crowd of bipartisan lawmakers.
“Life in our state molded Bob and Ike,” said Roberts. “Open prairies, wind- always the wind- wheat fields, agriculture; where a man is at the mercy of chance and weather but can still be confident in the dignity of his labor.”
“Bob’s early life in Russell Kansas,” Roberts reminded everyone, “included the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.”
“‘There are two kinds of education in this world,’” Roberts recalled Sen. Dole telling the Russell High School graduating class of 1986; “‘there’s one you give yourself and another you get from others.’”
“‘You can get an education on a farm, or in a factory; in a science lab, or in a church pew. Most of all, if you’re from Russell, you can get an education just by looking at life around you,’” Roberts quoted Dole as saying.
“‘When I was a boy, I doubt we knew the names of our Congressmen or Senators. But we were blessed to have friends and neighbors who knew and cared for one another. When times were tough, people were tougher. When the winds howled and part of the prairie itself was blown away, I could barely see to deliver the newspapers on my paper route,’” Dole told Russell High School’s senior class in 1986.
“‘But because I came from Russell, because I came from Kansas, I was granted a special vision, one which has seen me through all the years since, one which you can rely on just the same,’” Robert’s recalled Dole promising the students.
“‘My friends I hope that you will never stop looking at the stars,’” the graduation address continued. “‘I hope you will never forget our state motto, to the stars through difficulties, I hope that you will never stop believing in things you cannot see. I hope that your future is as hospitable and beckoning as mine was when I stood on the seminar platform more than 40 years ago.’”
“‘I hope that in the making of life for yourselves, you won’t neglect serving your country,’” was Dole’s parting blessing on the class. “‘Most of all, I hope that wherever you go, and whatever you do, Russell will go with you, and for then I know you will be well-guided.’”
“And well guided he was,” Roberts said of Bob Dole in conclusion; “In attaining his vision and embodying the promise of America.”
“When we lost Bob on Sunday, there was a pause throughout the state of Kansas as Kansans from all walks of life stopped to reflect,” said Roberts. “Bob Dole was a person who meant something to everyone.”
“Whether we were in Topeka, Abilene, Wichita, or Dodge City, I saw Bob Dole connect with Kansans always on a personal level,” Roberts reflected. “He would share with them this vision, this promise, and he would help them to achieve it.”
“Just like the folks in Russell did in supporting him,” said former-Senator Roberts.
“On a Thursday in 1983 he would be fighting to protect Social Security with President Reagan, others, in the White House, and then on Saturday he would be listening to Thelma in Sharon Springs Kansas, telling him what social security meant to her daily life and pocketbook,” Roberts recalled of his late friend.
“When he returned to Washington, with that empathy of his, and knowing Kansas, and knowing Thelma, it enabled him to win the victories that he did for for the disabled, for veterans, for the hungry, or for any of the issues of the day that needed negotiation, steady compromise, and the vision of America’s promise,” said Roberts.
“When his official public service came to an end, Bob could have faded away, but that was not his nature,” Roberts continued. “There was still so much vision and promise, still so much he could do for his fellow veterans and his nation.”
“Let everyone know,” Roberts called out, his voice rising, “without Bob Dole, there would not be a World War II memorial. With Bob’s help, we dedicated the memorial last year.”
“And there was Bob, shaking every hand, posing for every picture, listening to all the stories,” Roberts remembered.
Upon learning of Dole’s death, Roberts told the crowd his, “first reaction was one of sadness and grief, losing a dear friend and mentor.”
“But then thinking about it, I think the good Lord touched Bob’s hand and told him it was time to come home, see his folks,” Roberts said, tears in his eyes. “That there were quite a few World War II veterans, and some from Korea and Vietnam, who were looking forward to thanking him. As well as folks who were disabled, also quite a few dog and cat lovers. And quite a few folks from farm country, still upset about something,” Roberts added, getting laugh.
“And a whole passel of folks from Kansas, and all over, a lot of Republicans who said they voted for him, and some Democrats who say they should have,” Roberts went on, getting another chuckle from his audience.
“And then He said, don’t worry Bob, our heavenly gates are guarded by U.S. Marines,” Roberts finished, his voice grown choked with emotion.
The gates are no doubt opened to Senator Bob Dole today, the man Roberts called, “A Kansas star, who truly shined through difficultly.”
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)