Former Tribune editor remembers Dick Lugar

Dick Lugar was the first politician I knew as a kid coming into my home on East Hoefgen Street, most likely via WISH-TV Channel 8, as the mayor of my hometown, Indianapolis.

Lugar, who died Sunday at age 87, later became my senator, and then through his ability to work with others and his far-reaching work with the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, he became a world leader. His work made the world a little safer, a little better.

During my 30 years as a journalist, I enjoyed interviewing thousands of folks, I’d guess, interesting people from all walks of life, from all sorts of social and economic backgrounds, from all around the world. Some of the most enjoyable interviews were those with ordinary Joes and Janes doing interesting, extraordinarily ordinary things.

But Lugar was probably the most intelligent, thoughtful person among them. We spoke several times, including during one longer interview that took place while riding with the senator from Seymour to a farm in the Commiskey area of Jennings County. We talked about a number of topics but focused primarily on the U.S. Farm Bill and nuclear proliferation.

What a shame his 1996 presidential bid fell short, far short of the GOP nomination. He failed to gain a single delegate. Sadly, he was probably too smart, too dry and too short to make it through a modern presidential nomination campaign.

Perhaps most sad, he was too bipartisan, too focused on doing what was right and too middle of the road to survive his last primary run when seeking a seventh Senate term in 2012. Again, what a shame.

While my Indianapolis roots will always remember his connection to the Richard Green Co. and Shortridge High School and that President Richard M. Nixon proclaimed Lugar as his favorite mayor, I’ll always appreciate — as a child of the 1960s and the Cold War — his efforts to rid the world of nuclear missiles through agreements with what was then the Soviet Union.

Lugar’s nuclear disarmament work with Sen. Sam Nunn, a Democrat from Georgia, led to deactivation of about 7,600 Soviet nuclear warheads and the destruction of more than 900 intercontinental ballistic missiles by the time he left office, according to U.S. military figures reported Monday by The Associated Press.

The program is credited with removing all nuclear weapons from the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus, The AP said. Thank goodness, and thank you, Dick Lugar.

Nuclear weapons and the world wasn’t Lugar’s only issue and only stage, however. He also was concerned about schoolchildren and their hungry bellies, fighting to make sure poor children received vital nutrition as they went about their studies.

Yes, some argue Lugar turned left. That he left them behind. That he lost touch with Hoosiers during that record 36-year term in the Senate. That’s their right to feel that way. I can disagree with them, and they can disagree with me. That’s OK.

But Dick Lugar was a smart, compassionate, talented man who made our state, our country and the world a better, safer place. We should all hope more people like him will help lead us today and in the future.

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