Remembering former Sen. Richard G. Lugar

Soft-spoken, kind, humble, intelligent and a difference maker.

Those were words used to describe former U.S. Sen. Richard G. Lugar, who died Sunday at Inova Fairfax Heart and Vascular Institute in Virginia from complications related to chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, or CIPD. He was 87.

The Indiana Republican was most known for his foreign policy work, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but Lugar made several stops in Jackson County throughout his service to the state.

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The six-term senator, former Rhodes Scholar and mayor of Indianapolis made an impression — and even mentored — people from Jackson County.

Nancy Franke wishes more politicians could be like Lugar.

“Senator Lugar was a wonderful example of true statesmanship,” she said. “He has always worked for the greater good and continued to create new projects which would have a positive impact on others.”

Franke, a Seymour resident and current member of the Seymour Community School Corp. board of trustees, had the opportunity to learn from Lugar over the past several years through her involvement with the Richard G. Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series.

For 29 years, the series has sought to provide leadership training experiences that encourage, mentor and prepare Hoosier women to seek new levels of personal achievement and public involvement.

“Our city, state, country and world have been forever etched with the leadership and vision of Senator Richard G. Lugar,” organizers of the series said in a statement. “Senator Lugar was a singular force for good who can never be replaced.”

The Richard G. Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series is a small piece of his global legacy, but its impact on Indiana has been profound. His leadership will live on through the 529 women leaders who have been trained through the program, which is now poised to kick off its 30th year.

Franke’s participation in the series prepared her to run two political campaigns for state office, challenging fellow Seymour Republican Jim Lucas for the District 69 House of Representatives seat in 2016 and 2018. Although she lost both of those races, Franke said she remains civic-minded and active in politics today in part because of Lugar’s influence.

“I most appreciated his mentorship in learning to reach across the aisle when working with others,” she said. “His integrity and compassion always shined through. His influence set the bar high, and I wish many more in public service would strive for that.

“He never allowed politics and party lines to control him as a person,” she added. “He genuinely took an interest and care in public service, always working to listen to others to gain a better perspective in decisions which need to be made.”

Franke said she appreciated how Lugar never let anything stand in the way of his public service.

“Our nation lost another great leader who continued to work for the people and make a difference in the lives of so many. He never retired from the work which was near to his heart,” she said.

“May we all take a part of his integrity, civility and ability to look at others with respect and dignity, no matter what side of the aisle one is on, and relate it in our own work with others,” she added. “May his legacy continue to live on.”

Jackson County Prosecutor Jeff Chalfant worked as an intern for Lugar in 1991 while a junior at DePauw University.

The school had a program where students could study at another university for a semester.

Chalfant studied U.S. foreign policy at American University in Washington, D.C. It was during an interesting time in the country’s history in terms of foreign policy, Chalfant said.

“This was three years after the Soviet Union collapsed, and we had just invaded Iraq for the first time a few days before I arrived,” he said. “It was a fascinating time to be in Washington, and foreign policy was his thing.”

Even though he was interning, Chalfant said he would see Lugar in the office and speak with his staff regularly.

“He was a very humble man but well-respected,” he said. “He came from another era and where politicians were considered statesmen.”

Chalfant remembers a time when he was at an airport in Washington, D.C., and seeing off a visitor who came to see him.

While he was waiting to get on the metro train back into the city, he spotted Lugar.

“I didn’t think he would know me because I was only there for about four or five months,” he said.

But sure enough, Lugar recognized him and asked what he was doing. When Chalfant told him he was waiting on a train to get back, Lugar offered him a ride.

He remembers riding in the limousine with Lugar and his staff all the way back to the city. Chalfant said those small acts of kindness is what he will remember most.

“I will miss him not for the great statesman that he was, although I miss that, but I miss him for being a really nice, down-to-earth guy,” he said. “Even though he was probably working on the biggest problems that our country and the world faced, he still would take time out to do little things.”

Former U.S. Congressman Baron Hill said he remembers the first time he met Lugar while serving in the Indiana General Assembly and Lugar was a guest speaker at the Statehouse.

Hill said he approached the senator to introduce himself, as the two had never met.

“He said, ‘Hi, Baron Hill. I’ve enjoyed over the years watching you play basketball,’” he recalled. “I’ve never forgotten that.”

Following his election to the U.S. House of Representatives, Hill remembers working with Lugar to convert the former military site in Ripley County into Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge.

“That stands out the most to me as far as our work together,” he said. “We did work on things that affected Indiana in a bipartisan fashion because that’s the kind of man Dick Lugar was.”

Hill also remembers him as a quiet, kind person.

“Dick Lugar was one of the nicest people that you’d ever meet,” he said. “Always cordial, always friendly, always interested in what was going on in your life. That’s the mark of the man.”