Bob Dole honored at home in Kansas as ‘greatest’ of ‘Greatest Generation’
Fellow Kansans celebrated Bob Dole on Saturday as a tough but compassionate patriot shaped by small-town values, a strong partisan leader who could nevertheless work with political opponents, and a war hero who ultimately became “the greatest of the Greatest Generation.”
Dole made his last journey to his home state on the prairie for memorial services in his central Kansas hometown of Russell and at the statehouse in Topeka. He was honored for the military service during World War II that left him severely wounded, and for the distinguished political career that followed his recovery.
Current and former elected officials from both major parties said that Dole embodied the state’s motto, the Latin for “To the stars through difficulties,” and that he never stopped trying to help others.
“He did not hide in a time of crisis. He looked for solutions,” former U.S. Rep. Jim Slattery, a Kansas Democrat, said during the Statehouse event. ”I often told Bob he was the toughest man I ever knew, both physically and mentally, but he had a tender heart.”
Dole died Sunday at the age of 98 after a lifetime of service that included nearly 36 years in Congress and running as the Republican nominee for president in 1996.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who served more than a decade with Dole in the Senate and later surpassed Dole as the longest-serving GOP leader there, attended both Kansas events.
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Saturday’s events began with a public viewing of his casket and a memorial service at a Roman Catholic church in Russell, the small town some 220 miles west of Kansas City where he grew up during the Great Depression.
Speakers for the event at the state capital Saturday afternoon noted that Dole’s career in elective office began there, in the Kansas House, in the early 1950s.
Political leaders attending the events included Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly; Kansas’ two Republican U.S. senators, Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran; and former GOP Sens. Pat Roberts and Nancy Kassebaum.
At the church in Russell, dignitaries in dark, formal business attire mixed in the congregation with local residents dressed in less formal farm and work clothes, a KWCH-TV livestream showed.
Kelly noted that Russell was “where his roots run deepest.”
“As we gather here today to come together to salute our state’s most favorite of favorite sons and the greatest of the Greatest Generation, we pause to reflect with immense gratitude on all that Bob Dole’s life meant to Kansas and to Kansans, to our nation and to the world,” the governor said.
Dole also was honored Friday with a service at Washington National Cathedral, with President Biden among those speaking. Another tribute followed at the World War II Memorial in Washington — a monument that Dole had worked to get built.
In addition to the caustic wit that he sometimes turned on himself, Dole became known as a congressional leader who could bridge partisan divides to pass legislation such as the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, aimed at preventing discrimination on the basis of disability.
Speaking in Russell, Moran attributed that ability to Dole’s ties to a small town, where people who disagree on politics still mix in their daily lives.
Speakers also pleaded for more civility in politics, with Kelly calling on the statehouse audience to “pledge ourselves to be more like Bob Dole.”
Moran said: “Think of all the things he’s been through and how hope had to be so important to his life to get through the day.”
Dole will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, but his casket was flown Friday evening to Salina, Kan., then transported 70 miles west to his boyhood hometown, which now has about 4,400 residents.
Oil production allowed Russell to boom while Dole was growing up, even during the Great Depression, with the first local well drilled in 1923, the year he was born.
In Russell, Moran quoted Dole’s speech accepting the 1996 presidential nomination, in which Dole said: “The first thing you learn on the prairie is the relative size of a man compared to the lay of the land.”
“His family and this community endured the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression,” the senator said. “In Russell, you could feel and see the challenges, the obstacles, the barriers that were put in people’s lives. Nothing was easy.”
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