In all likelihood, many of you have never heard of Bob Dole, or if you have, you have only a vague notion of his accomplishments. In point of fact, Dole, who passed away last week at the age of 98, led a very interesting, accomplished, productive and fulfilling life. Read on and be edified.
Robert Joseph Dole was born on July 22, 1923 in Russell, KS. His father ran a small creamery; his mother was a homemaker. Dole graduated Russell High School in 1941. He was a star athlete, excelling in football, track and basketball. He was particularly outstanding in basketball, so much so that Phog Allen, the legendary Kansas University basketball coach, recruited him to play for the team (Unless you are a rabid college basketball fan you probably never heard of Phog Allen. He played under the legendary James Naismith, who literally invented the game, and he won 746 games in his coaching career. Do you know the derivation of his unusual nickname? See below.)
Dole also played on the KU track and football teams. One of his teammates on the football team was Bud Adams who later made a fortune in oil and became the owner of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans franchise.
Okay, enough trivia. In 1942 Dole enlisted in the US Army. While fighting near Bologna, Italy he suffered a very serious injury that nearly killed him. A German shell struck him in the upper back and right arm. It shattered his collarbone and part of his spine. In Dole’s words, “I lay face down in the dirt. I could not see or move my arms. I thought they were missing.” Dole nearly died then and there. All his mates could do was give him massive amounts of morphine, which they did, get him to a hospital asap, and hope for the best. Dole was paralyzed from the neck down, suffered blood clots, a severe infection and a 109 degree fever. Massive amounts of penicillin did not help. Finally, the doctors gave him streptomycin, which was an experimental drug at the time. That worked, but then Dole had to undergo seven surgeries and an extended period of physical therapy. Finally, he had to deal with the mental and emotional aspects of his condition. Eventually, he came to realize he had to “focus … on what [he] had left and what [he] could do with it rather than complaining [of] what had been lost.” Ultimately, he recovered, but he suffered from a lack of mobility in his right arm, which required him to learn to write with his left hand, and numbness in his left arm.
After his recovery and discharge Dole completed his education and then practiced law in the Russell area. In 1950 he commenced his political career by winning election to the Kansas House of Representatives. In 1969 he entered the US Senate where he served for some 30 years. Though a Republican from a conservative state he generally exhibited a moderate voting record. For example, he co-authored a bill with the liberal George McGovern to make food stamps more accessible. In 1982 the NY Times described him as “changing from ‘hard-line conservative’ to ‘mainstream Republicanism.’ “
Dole ran for a spot on the national ticket several times during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. In 1976 he was the GOP nominee for vp under Gerald Ford. In 1980 and 1988 he ran for the GOP presidential nomination and lost to Ronald Reagan and Bush 43, respectively. He finally won the nomination in 1994, but he lost to Bill Clinton, largely due to a booming economy. Quiz question #2 : Who was Dole’s running mate? See below.
Dole enjoyed a long, varied and fruitful post-political career For instance, he became a tv spokesman for products such as Viagra, Visa, and Pepsi. He appeared on tv shows such as Larry King Live and 60 Minutes. He played himself on Saturday Night Live and Suddenly Susan. He became a registered lobbyist. He wrote several books including a humorous one in which he ranked several presidents according to their sense of humor.
Dole was awarded numerous medals and awards including the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Presidential Citizens Medal. In addition, he was the recipient of several honorary degrees.
Dole was married twice. His first wife was Phyllis Holden whom he met at a VA hospital where he was recuperating from his wartime injuries. They had one daughter. They divorced in 1972. He married his second wife, Elizabeth in 1975. Elizabeth was a prominent politician in her own right. She served as a US Senator from North Carolina and held various offices in the Nixon, Reagan and Bush 41 Administrations. They did not have any children.
In his later years Dole suffered through various health issues. For example, he had surgery for prostate cancer in 1991. He had a hip replacement, an abdominal aortic aneurysm, an elevated heart rate, knee surgery, pneumonia, and low blood pressure. Finally, in February 2021 he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, which ultimately killed him.
Dole passed away on December 5, 2021 at the ripe old age of 98. Rest in peace. You led a long, productive life. Your courage and determination in overcoming various physical, emotional and health issues was an inspiration to us all. You will be sorely missed.
Quiz # 1 answer: It was due to his booming “fog-horn” voice.
Quiz #2 answer: Jack Kemp