Topeka Bob Dole, who took his Kansas roots to the national political stage, was honored Friday in the shadow of the Statehouse, with the unveiling of the inaugural Kansas Walk of Honor plaque.
In typical Dole fashion, the 88-year-old former U.S. senator and presidential candidate quipped, “I don’t deserve it, but I’ll take it.”
During the ceremony, Dole was praised by leaders for his public service, self-sacrifice, honesty and sense of duty.
Gov. Sam Brownback described Dole as a man who “deals from the heart,” and said he will tell youngsters unfamiliar with Dole, “He’s what most Kansans would call a good man. And that’s saying a lot.”
Born in Russell in 1923, Dole was attending Kansas University when he joined the Army during World War II. He was severely wounded, hospitalized for 39 months and received two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star.
He later served in the U.S. House and as a leader in the Senate. He was the Republican Party nominee for vice president in 1976 and president in 1996. Both campaigns ended in defeat.
During his political career, he became known as an advocate for veterans and people with disabilities.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Dole’s “fingerprints” were on every major piece of legislation for a generation. Roberts added that Dole helped give “a proper burial” to bills that needed killing.
Dole was often the leader working behind the scenes to get things done without taking the credit, said former Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers.
In his speech, Dole thanked the Kansans who elected him and gave him an opportunity to serve.
He reminisced about his short stint in the state Legislature as “the greenest of lawmakers — a somewhat banged up 2nd Lieutenant studying law at Washburn and hoping that my hero Dwight Eisenhower could be persuaded to run for president.”
He said when he was young he took inspiration from a song called “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” He added, “My whole life, up to and including today, has been a validation of that song.”
After his speech, Dole spoke briefly with reporters. When asked what his proudest legislative achievement was, he said it was working with Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat from New York, on reforming Social Security.
“Compromise is not a bad thing and working across the aisle is not a bad thing,” Dole said.
Asked what advice he would give political leaders today, he said, “They’ve got to be civil to each other. Some of the things they say about each other just don’t belong on the Senate floor. There’s got to be more civility, there’s got to be more trust, and there’s got to be bipartisanship. It takes good, strong leadership to make it work.”
After the speeches and ceremony, a long line of well-wishers greeted Dole and his wife, Elizabeth, also a former U.S. senator. Dole was then headed to Elkhart, Russell and Hutchinson.
The outdoor ceremony was attended by former Dole staffers, Kansas politicians and folks who just wanted to honor Dole.
Sheila and Alan Rice, of Topeka, said Dole was unlike other politicians.
“He represented the public well. He didn’t appear to be on a pedestal, untouchable,” Sheila said.
“He’s truly loved,” said Kelly Wingerson, of Tecumseh. “I get teary-eyed over it.”