Former congressman remembers late senator

Former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, who died Thursday at his Maryland home, left a lasting impact on many people in Indiana and across the nation.

One of those is Seymour native and former Indiana Ninth District Congressman Baron Hill.

“There are few great people. Birch was one of them,” Hill said. “He really, truly was a great man who has had and will have a lasting impact on our country.”

Bayh was 91 at the time of his death Thursday morning from pneumonia.

Besides serving in the U.S. Senate from 1963 to 1981, Bayh also was the father of former Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh. The younger Bayh also represented in Congress as a senator from 1999 to 2011. He ran again for that seat in 2016 but was unsuccessful.

The elder Bayh first ran for the Senate at age 34 after serving four terms as a state representative from Vigo County (1954 to 1962).

Republican Dan Quayle defeated Birch Bayh for Senate in the November 1980 election.

Besides Title IX, which opened access to all educational opportunities to women, Bayh authored two constitutional amendments.

The 25th Amendment changed the order of presidential succession, while the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

Hill said many like to note Birch Bayh’s work on the amendments, but he said Bayh impacted many lives through major legislative initiatives.

Some of those examples, Hill said, were Bayh’s help with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1978.

Hill said Bayh would be a rare find in today’s political climate, which he said is always focused on the next election and “one-upping your opponent.”

“Birch certainly had a political side to him, of course, but he reached out to Republicans and worked with them on a lot of legislation,” he said. “There’s not very many Birch Bayhs serving in public life right now, at least at the national level.”

Hill pointed to an example where Bayh worked with former Sen. Bob Dole on the FEMA legislation to help people following disasters. He said both senators were on opposite sides of the political spectrum but put aside their differences to get work done that was important to people across the country.

Hill said Bayh was a special public servant because he always kept the working class on his mind and focus of his work.

“He was serious we made a difference for the common man and woman, the average Joe and average Jill,” he said.

Hill said when he would campaign for Congress, Bayh would come to help him through events and walking door to door. He said Bayh was popular with constituents all throughout the district.

“He knew everybody and wanted to talk to everybody, and everybody wanted to talk to him,” he said.

Hill recalled one time, it was pouring down rain when the two had planned to canvass neighborhoods in Jasper. Hill considered rescheduling the event, but Bayh insisted they go anyway despite the weather.

The two went to K-Mart, where Bayh purchased rain gear, ponchos and suits to protect them from the rain.

“We were putting those on our bodies in this storm, and a big crowd gathered around and gave him an ovation for his perseverance when he got done putting it on,” he said. “He never wanted to back down.”

It was during those times Hill said he learned important lessons from the late senator. He said Bayh taught him and always reminded him to keep listening to the people he served.

“The one thing he left with me is that sometimes in the business of politics, you forget to listen to people, and Birch would always say, ‘Make sure you’re listening to your constituents, Baron. Don’t ever forget that,’” he said.

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Statements from public officials on the passing of former Sen. Birch Bayh.

"Birch Bayh was a trailblazer who dedicated himself to improving the lives of all Hoosiers. His remarkable legislative and personal legacy transformed the country and will live on for years to come." — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb

"Birch Bayh is a modern-day founding father. He used his tenure in the Senate to push for substantive and substantial change, including two constitutional amendments and the passage of Title IX." — U.S. Sen. Todd Young

"The only person since the Founding Fathers to draft more than one amendment to the Constitution, Senator Bayh devoted his life to championing the rights of all Americans, especially women, people of color, young people and others whom history had too long pushed to the margins." — Bayh family statement