Editor: Register-Mail: I have some personal memories of Bob Dole, who is currently being properly praised as a representative of those days when politicians could be friends across party lines and when honesty and integrity counted for more than political agendas.
Long, long ago I was introduced to Bob Dole by his secretary. She was living in Virginia then, right across the river from her job, but only shortly before I’d been the best man at her wedding. Her husband had been my closest friend for years.
I knew relatively little about Bob Dole then, having lived in Kansas only during the summers when political campaigning was largely suspended. I did know that in his campaign for the House seat, my friend sang in a quartet (Dolls for Dole) to entertain the crowds before he came on to speak, then helped pass out Dole pineapple juice. When she began helping with the correspondence, she was so efficient that he brought her to D.C. in 1960.
It surprised me at first when Dole stuck out his left hand to shake, because I had not been aware of the extent of his WWII injuries. He had grown up in our county seat, Russell, which today has 4,400 residents, but was smaller then. A good athlete, he had played basketball and football for the Kansas University Jayhawks before he was called up to serve in the 10th Mountain division in Italy. There he was so badly wounded pulling a wounded radioman to safety that the doctors expected him to die. He didn’t die, but after thirty-nine months of surgery and therapy, he could still barely function. His right arm was totally paralyzed and he had pains everywhere.
That’s when he met his first wife, Phyllis, who helped him through law school, then into his first job as a county attorney, then his run for Congress. The people liked his simplicity, his honesty, his willingness to work, and his common sense. His fellows in Congress sensed those same qualities and gave him increasing responsibilities, especially after he was elected senator in 1969.
This brought increasing strain into the marriage. While Phyllis had initially enjoyed the parties, socializing, and political events, she did not like his long work hours and the travel his job required. Eventually, she returned to Russell, while he stayed in DC until holidays came. In 1972, after 24 years of marriage, they divorced amicably. She married a local rancher, then, after his death, married her first love! Phyllis and Bob remained friends. He attended the funerals of her two husbands, and their daughter Robin worked in his campaigns.
Bob himself remarried in 1975. Elizabeth loved politics and became an important figure in her own right. In 1996 he was the Republican candidate for the presidency, but at age 73 was widely considered too old for the job. (I remember some teenager saying that she did not care whether he was a hero in the Vietnam War.)
Bob died Dec 5, Phyllis Dec 6, 2008. — William Urban, Monmouth
This article originally appeared on Galesburg Register-Mail: LETTER: Realizing extent of Bob Dole's sacrifice with a handshake
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