The defeat hit hard, especially since he had also been the Republican running mate in the 1976 election, when Jimmy Carter won Gerald Ford. “I don’t know how many people run for vice president and president and lose both,” said the man who often used humor and unmoved expression to blunt the sharpest edges of his career. life.
“I was thinking as I got down in the elevator: tomorrow will be the first time in my life that I have nothing to do,” Dole said in his concession speech on election night. But within hours, he was back on TV as a frequent and charming guest on a talk show, often referring to himself in the third person (much to the comedians’ delight) and musing about life after public service: “Elizabeth is back at the Red Cross, and I’m walking the dog.”
“Elizabeth” was, of course, his second wife and stepmother to his daughter, Robin, from her first marriage. The couple married in 1975 after a three-year courtship. “Liddy” Dole had his own impressive bona fides, as head of the American Red Cross after serving as Secretary of Transportation under President Ronald Reagan (who awarded her husband the Presidential Citizens Medal in 1989) and Secretary of Labor of President George HW Bush. (She was to become a United States Senator from North Carolina.)
In a joint 2019 interview for NBC’s Today, she recalled that her handsome suitor had not asked her out before their third phone conversation.
“I really liked it a lot, because I realized he wasn’t a guy chasing women around Capitol Hill,” she said.
“I never did that – I couldn’t catch them anyway,” he joked.
The two were a formidable Washington power couple, but it was his kindness that really appealed to her, she said. “I love his compassionate heart. And the fact that he liked to feel that every day he could make a difference for at least one person in need.
For this, President Clinton awarded Dole the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1997, citing his work “defending the interests of hard-working farmers in his state, helping people with disabilities by paving the way for the Americans with Disabilities Act, extending the law on voting rights, playing a key role within the National Commission on Social Security Reform, and always, always supporting the leadership of our country.
Dole would cite safeguarding social security as his greatest achievement. But he was also proud of his work in raising millions of dollars for the National WWII Memorial in Washington. After opening in 2004, it spent most of its Saturdays there, welcoming veterans and their families. His book, The story of a soldier: a memoir, was published in 2005.
In 2018, Congress placed Dole in the company of George Washington and Mother Teresa by awarding him the country’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, for his service in combat (“He knows courage,” a said President Donald Trump during the award ceremony) and his decades in the House and Senate. “Bob Dole was known for his ability to work across the aisle and adopt a practical two-party system,” the legislation reads.
The following year, Congress unanimously passed a bill that promoted Dole to the rank of colonel in the United States Army for his heroism during the war.
Dole has faced a myriad of health issues over the decades, including hip replacement and prostate cancer. After the latter, he did a tasteful commercial for Viagra (he had been a test subject for that), then a Pepsi commercial which spoofed the Viagra commercial. Although some have called his personality a “grouchy,” he took all the ribs in stride, even an episode of The simpsons in which he and Bill Clinton were abducted by aliens. (“Bob Dole does not need this», Laments his character.)
In 2005, he experienced bleeding inside his head, which further limited the use of his able-bodied arm and hand. When his former rival, President George HW Bush, passed away in 2018, the nation watched with strong emotion as 95-year-old Dole struggled to get up from his wheelchair and hesitantly greet the flag-covered coffin.
“I wanted to pay homage… get up and maybe bow my head,” he said. “I didn’t go with the intention of saying hello, but I did.”
Respect and loyalty mattered. When Dole was first injured, residents of Russell, Kansas, deposited money in a cigar box at Dawson’s Drugstore to help pay his medical bills. Dole has kept this box in his desk drawer all his life.
Decorum mattered too. And certainly stoicism. In public, he was seen holding a black felt-tip pen on a regular basis, for two reasons: it discouraged people from trying to shake his bad hand, and it kept his fingers from spreading, emphasizing his infirmity.
He asked to be buried with it.