Like many others in our country, this weekend I paused and reflected on Senator Robert “Bob” Dole and what his passing means for this country. Even though Dole was a tenacious partisan—an ardent supporter of the Republican Party through thick and thin—he knew how to work across the aisle and get things done. For all his acerbic wit, he had an empathy for others and their struggles. He was also a man who never forgot where he came from, and what this country did for him. We remember well what he did for us. A wounded World War II hero, his name would become synonymous with the Greatest Generation. His passion to say “thank you” to those who made sacrifices for our nation made him a champion for those who served. I remember well a trip we took together to Normandy in 2009. His fellow veterans could not get enough of him. Nor will I forget what he did in his last years to ensure that the Eisenhower Memorial would be built. He knew it would have meaning not just for veterans, but for all who remember Eisenhower’s role as a unifying president.
But Bob Dole’s death was not the only one I thought of on Sunday. He is just the most recent in a line of great American public servants who passed away in the last year and a half—starting with the death of former National Security Council Advisor (Air Force General) Brent Scowcroft on August 6, 2020. Perhaps if it had not been for our great distraction with COVID-19 and our withdrawal from Afghanistan, we might have engaged in a more prolonged assessment of what his indispensable contribution meant to us as a nation.
This observation also applies to the extraordinary life and service of Secretary George Shultz, a man who got his start in public life in the Eisenhower Administration and later held four different cabinet positions: Secretary of State (1982-1989), Secretary of the Treasury (1972-1974), Director of the Office of Management and Budget (1970-1972) and Secretary of Labor (1969-1970). His death, on February 6, 2021, was followed, only months later, by the passing of Senator John Warner on May 25, 2021. Warner, a former Secretary of the Navy (1972-1974), was a beloved and respected senator from Virginia and a lion within moderate GOP forces. Then, on October 18, 2021, many were shocked to learn of the unexpected death of another former National Security Advisor, General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. It seemed almost surreal that one more key figure had left the scene. For many of us who had tallied our losses, Powell’s departure was a one-two punch.
I was indeed fortunate to have known all these men personally—and I worked with several of them on a range of projects. In fact, I was on a Zoom call with Secretary Shultz, discussing national security and energy policy, just weeks preceding his 100th birthday and two months before his death.
Aside from their many other achievements, each of these men played key moderating roles in the Republican Party during their time in public life. But this continued even as they moved on to other pursuits. It was not because of what they said or did not say during this difficult period. Their influence was grounded in what they stood for: an era of bipartisanship, respect, and common sense. Perhaps more important, however, is that in their public lives they were dedicated to serving the United States, not their own individual ambitions. They led with civility and a vision for what this country could do if we apply careful preparation with an eye on the future.
We must keep their spirit with us during these hard and dangerous times–even as they rest, after decades of service, in peace.
In gratitude for their lives, I send best wishes,