Former Sens. Bob and Elizabeth Dole began the 2009 Dole Lecture on Sunday afternoon by remembering Jack Kemp, Dole’s 1996 vice presidential running mate, who died Saturday after a battle with cancer.
“He was one of those Republicans who wanted to make the party bigger for the right reasons,” Bob Dole said. “He’s just a good guy and a good friend.”
Kemp also helped Elizabeth Dole campaign in North Carolina for the U.S. Senate.
“He’s just an example of the public servant that enjoys what he does. It’s heartbreaking,” Elizabeth Dole said.
The Doles spoke to an afternoon crowd of more than 1,000 students, faculty and residents at the Lied Center, located across the parking lot from the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics. They used their memories of Kemp to encourage those in the audience, especially young people, to engage in civil service.
“I can’t tell you what a great gift it can be to feel that you’re involved in something bigger than yourself, that you’ve found a sense of mission,” said Elizabeth Dole, who served one term in the Senate before losing her bid for re-election last year. “I do believe that public service is a noble profession.” Mrs. Dole also served as transportation secretary for President Ronald Reagan and labor secretary for President George H.W. Bush before spending 1991-1998 as head of the American Red Cross.
Her husband, the former six-term Kansas senator, noted that one of his proudest accomplishments was raising $195 million to build a World War II memorial on the National Mall.
“We said if we can’t raise the money, we’re not going to build it,” Bob Dole said. “They’re proud of what they did. Where would we be without that generation?”
Both senators were able to get the audience to laugh more than a few times.
“Just to think that I was elected six times by you,” said Bob Dole. “Probably not all of you. I’ll talk to you later.”
He said he was particularly grateful to the people of Kansas who did vote for him. “I really think the longer I served, the better senator I became,” he said. “I recognized that there are other problems in other states that we don’t have in Kansas.”
Elizabeth Dole told personal stories about the couple, including how they met.
“You can start, but there’s a time limit,” said her husband.
Mrs. Dole said it took three phone calls for Bob to ask her out on a date. “He’s not somebody chasing women around Capitol Hill,” she said, smiling.
“I was looking for a nice, cheap place, too,” Bob quickly added.
Dole also discussed health care reform, which he is working on with other retired senators to find a bipartisan solution. “I think the American people are ready. We’ve got to fix it,” he said. “People all over Kansas can’t find affordable, accessible care.”
Both former senators also touched on the state of Washington today.
“In recent years, it’s become much more raucous,” said Elizabeth. “You feel like it’s almost combat now. I do think we have to work hard at getting that civility back.”
The Doles ended their lecture by telling the audience of their newest endeavor.
“We’re getting ready to go on NutriSystem,” said Elizabeth Dole. She noted they had tried other diet systems before.
“I think the reason you lose weight is because the food is so bad you don’t eat it,” Bob Dole said.
The Doles also surprised Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway by naming a new award in his honor.
“We wouldn’t have the Dole Institute without Bob Hemenway,” said Bob Dole. “There’s got to be some way to recognize this person.”
The new award, the Robert Hemenway Public Service Award, will recognize one KU undergraduate student annually who shows commitment to civic engagement and excellence in public service.