The last time I saw former U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar was at Marian University. He was doing one of the many things he did well—inspiring the next generation of public servants.
During his break, we did one of our regular interviews, this time about the passing of former President George H.W. Bush and Bush’s impact on American foreign policy. The senator was his usual charming and intelligent self.
However, had I known that was going to be the last time I saw him, I would have told him, “Thank you.”
I would have thanked him not only for his service to his country as a U.S. senator and former Navy officer, but also for his impact here in Indianapolis.
I don’t think a lot of people really appreciate the legacy Lugar left behind.
Even before he was mayor of Indianapolis, he served on the IPS school board and convinced his colleagues to do something that was anathema to them—participate in the federal school lunch program so poor kids could get a nutritious meal.
One could argue his biggest achievement as mayor was Unigov, but I submit it was the staff of people he either brought with him or hired along the way who were so crucial to Indianapolis’ growth: former governor and Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, Indiana Pacers CEO Jim Morris, Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers, you name it. All these individuals have gone on to shape the course and future of this state and now their proteges are stepping up to assume the mantle of power and move the city and state forward. Heck, even former staffer Todd Young went on to become a U.S. senator.
And it’s not just Indianapolis and Indiana that owe Lugar a debt of gratitude—it is the entire world. Lugar worked with then-Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn to secure and dismantle weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union.
Even when Lugar ran for president in late 1995 and early 1996, when my family lived in Iowa, I remember as clear as day a campaign ad that warned of weapons of mass destruction ending up in the hands of terrorists and rogue nations.
But for me, the senator’s greatest quality was his thoughtfulness and sense of bipartisanship when it came to problem-solving. Much to the dismay of the more ideologically extreme elements of the Republican Party, former President Barack Obama called Lugar “his favorite Republican.” Unfortunately, that thoughtfulness was not appreciated in the 2012 primary. But even after being ousted from office, the senator continued his work to make the world a much safer place.
And he also kept inspiring the next generations of leadership, be it the Richard G. Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series that encourages women to get involved in local, state and federal politics, or his annual symposium where hundreds of high school students from across Indiana gather at the University of Indianapolis to learn about government (which, by the way, my Saturday morning business law graduate students always appreciated because they knew we would have to take a short break so I could go downstairs and interview him).
I will definitely miss this statesman who was the epitome of public service. I really liked Lugar and truly believe this world would be a better place if we were all a little bit more like him.•
Shabazz is an attorney, radio talk show host and political commentator, college professor and stand-up comedian. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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