From the WIBW Archives: Bob Dole leaves lasting legacy

Published: Dec. 5, 2021 at 12:37 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Bob Dole, who overcame disabling war wounds to become a sharp-tongued Senate leader from Kansas, a Republican presidential candidate, and then a symbol and celebrant of his dwindling generation of World War II veterans, has died. He was 98.

Dole was born in the heart of Kansas during the great depression, homegrown to become a Valiant soldier of the greatest generation, turning his life of service to his country and the political arena to become one of the nation’s greatest Senate leaders.

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Dole was born July 22nd, 1923 in Russell, Kansas. In his earlier days, he was a strong, natural-born athlete. Legendary Kansas coach, Phog Allen, came to visit him at the family business in Russell to recruit him for the Jayhawks where Bob played basketball, football, and ran track.

Dole got his education from KU, the University of Arizona, and then Washburn University before the army took him into its service.

Most all Kansans know the heroic story of Dole’s service with the 10th Mountain battalion in Italy. He was seriously wounded, permanently losing the use of his right arm. Many years of treatment starting at Winter General Hospital in Topeka, took him near and far, but nothing would allow him to regain the use of his right arm. It was then that Bob Dole made up his mind to look forward, not back with a new life in politics, firmly planted in Topeka.

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It was an act of fate in Kansas City’s Kemper Arena that launched Dole into the national arena. Gerald Ford’s heated challenge from Ronald Reagan prompted the president to select Dole as his bicentennial year running mate, it was a post-Watergate race they would lose to Jimmy Carter.

The next Democrat to occupy the White House, Bill Clinton, defeated Dole who was then at the head of the ticket in 1996. He had resigned his Senate seat and leadership post to focus on the job he’d coveted his entire life, president of the United States, saying he would go to the White House or go home.

In one of Kansas’ most colorful political events ever, his closest political friends flocked to Lawrence for the spectacular dedication of the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics. Tom Brokaw anchored the center’s opening. He said, “We were just ordinary Americans who were called on to meet the greatest challenges in 60 years on our ranks are dwindling, but our memories endure.”

Author, Bob Woodward, of Watergate in Washington Post fame, told an audience in Lawrence that Dole will be remembered as the man that 36 million Americans thought should have been president.

Kansans thanked him by making him one of the first honorees on the Walk of Honor outside the statehouse. He said, hello and goodbye in his own tour, always expressing his love and admiration for Kansas and its values.

In an interview at the time, Dole said, “I love the people, whether they supported me or not, they are Kansans. You know, you can be a traditional Republican, conservative, and still understand that sometimes compromise is necessary. I just enjoyed my work. I had a great opportunity because of the people of Kansas.

In 2018, the year that America lost President and First Lady George and Barbara Bush and Sen. John McCain, Washington embraced Dole. In January, they honored him with the congressional gold medal.

That year ended with World War II veteran Dole, who had worked his way to the top of the Washington political scene, being lifted from his wheelchair to honor another man who had done the same thing, the late former President, George Herbert Walker Bush.

America will never forget these images and now Americans will be mourning his passing as well. The man who was with Bob Dole from Capitol Hill, right through to the Dole Institute, Bill Lacey agrees.

Those are the values people will remember Dole for during the great generations yet to come.

Lacey said, “I view him and I view his legacy as a conservative Republican, who is able to reach out to the other side finding common ground and who participated in most, every significant piece of legislation passed in the last half of the century in Congress, whether it was the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Acts, a whole variety of things. He did so much and was part of so much that I think he’ll be remembered. His legacy will be more about what he did in the Senate, his leadership in the Senate than it will be his runs for president.”

After his passing was announced Sunday morning several lawmakers and state officials shared kind words about Sen. Dole.

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