It’s rare in these politically divided times to find something upon which everyone agrees. So, it seems fitting that in death, former Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar’s impact is felt the way it was during his life: as a testament to working in cooperation with others, particularly with those across the aisle.
Statements poured in from around the country yesterday, as news of Lugar’s passing at age 87 became known. Everyone from current Indiana state and congressional leaders to former President Barack Obama, to Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg and so many more.
My own social media feed was flooded with photos of Lugar and a variety of friends and classmates over the years that had the good fortune of working in his Washington, D.C. office, and sentiments from people across the political spectrum about the things they’d learned while working with or around Lugar.
Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar had this to say:
“Richard Lugar was the ultimate public servant and bipartisan leader. His impacts will be felt for generations to come in Indianapolis, our state, our nation and globally. He was an invaluable mentor to myself and thousands of others.”
The first time I recall knowing who Lugar was, I was in high school and invited to attend the Richard G. Lugar Symposium for Tomorrow’s Leaders at the University of Indianapolis. What I remember taking away from that experience was the fact that he was there, answering our questions and not only taking us seriously as high school students, but actively encouraging us to get involved in the political and civic system. That’s an empowering message to send to 400 high school students each year for nearly 40 years.
Lugar was a two-time winner of the Indiana Chamber’s Government Leader of the Year award, in 1990 (the inaugural honor given) and again in 2013. Here are a few statements from an interview with him in 2013 in the Indiana Chamber’s BizVoice® magazine:
State of Congress in 2013: “The current predicament is there are many members, and they are certainly very sincere about this – and many constituents who voted for them are very sincere – who take the position that the United States, with over $14 trillion in debt, various entitlement programs that have no particular future unless there are large reforms, they take the view first of all that they are for ‘limited government’; much less government not just at the federal level, but the state and local level, and much less spending. They take the view that it’s my way or the highway; essentially, if you do not agree with this curtailment of government spending and government action, then they’re not prepared to vote for any program.”
His outlook on the future: “I have an innate confidence that we will find solutions, that probably there will be different people coming into government. I think also that there will be more optimism in due course in the country as a whole. There is a disillusionment of many Americans, many older Americans, who simply do not find a great deal of hope for the future. They think that the best days of America may have come and gone. There’s anger out there.”
What he wants Hoosiers to say about Richard Lugar: “I attempted to answer that the other day when word came about the (Presidential) Medal of Freedom. I appreciated the wonderful loving but creative guidance of my parents Marvin and Bertha, and my brother Tom and sister Anne and how supportive they have been. I mention that because that has been a key factor along with the loving support of my wife, Char. We have continued to be supportive of each other through all the public life ups and downs and the raising of four wonderful sons, who I have enormous pride in and have great achievements of their own. These have been critical factors in my ability to serve. My family has wanted to be teammates in this and I’ve included them.”
The last time the Chamber reached out to Lugar was earlier this year, to discuss his colleague and good friend Jim Morris. He couldn’t wait to talk about Morris and also go down memory lane about his time as Indianapolis mayor:
“These were very, very important years in the life of Indianapolis because it was the beginning of the attempt to bring about Unigov, the consolidation of the city and the surrounding townships. Unigov was not just geographical and political change but it really signaled that Indianapolis was going to be one of the top 10 cities population wise and in many other ways in the United States of America.”