President Clinton on Friday delivered the eulogy for former Arkansas Sen. J. William Fulbright, who gave his aspiring protege his first taste of national politics and warned him against the arrogance of power.
Speaking to a well-attended memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral, Clinton remembered his one-time mentor as a lifelong student and teacher who established the scholarship program that bears his name and that gave tens of thousands of U.S. students the opportunity to learn about the world beyond America’s shores.
“We come to celebrate and give thanks for the remarkable life of J. William Fulbright, a life that changed our country and our world forever and for the better,” Clinton told the family and friends of the austere and scholarly former senator, who died of a stroke last week at the age of 89.
“In the work he did, the words he spoke and the life he lived, Bill Fulbright stood against the 20th Century’s most destructive forces and fought to advance its brightest hopes.”
Clinton recalled Fulbright’s early and lonely opposition to then-President Lyndon B. Johnson’s prosecution of the Vietnam War as personally courageous and politically costly because it pitted him against powerful members of his own party.
But it followed the pattern of the Arkansan’s political life, which was marked by speaking out on behalf of the fledgling United Nations and against the spread of the atom bomb and Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunts, the President said.
“Time and again, for 32 years as a congressman, a senator, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he worked for progress and peace, often against great odds and sometimes at great personal cost,” Clinton said.
Clinton, while a student at Georgetown University in the mid-1960s, served as a low-level clerk on Fulbright’s Foreign Relations Committee staff at the time that the senator was beginning to speak out against the war in Vietnam.
It was partly because of Fulbright’s example that Clinton opposed the war.
“He lived with passion, tempered by reason. He loved politics but cautioned against the arrogance of power,” the President said.
Fulbright was born in 1905 in Sumner, Mo., to a well-to-do family and moved the following year to Fayetteville, Ark. He attended the University of Arkansas and won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford.
After finishing law school, he became a law professor at the University of Arkansas and, at age 39, was named university president. In 1942, Fulbright won a seat in the U.S. House and in 1944 he won the first of five Senate terms.
In 1946, he created the international program to exchange students and scholars that continues under his name. More than 120,000 people from abroad have studied in the United States, and 90,000 U.S. students and professors have studied overseas under the program.
“We owe a lot to Bill Fulbright, some of us more than others,” Clinton said. “Let us all remember the life he lived and the example he set.”