Remembering the Lugar who walked among us


Richard Lugar had a sweet tooth.

His childhood friend Marianne Tobias told me a story.

She and Lugar took piano lessons from the same piano teacher when they were young. The two did a recital together.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

The refreshments included a plate of cookies. The cookies disappeared.

“He ate them all,” Tobias said, laughing. “I know he did.”

Another friend of Lugar’s, former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Georgia, told me a similar story. When Lugar and Nunn had formed their historic partnership to persuade the former Soviet Union to part with its weapons of mass destruction, they went to that dissolving nation as part of a delegation to tour a biological weapons facility. They inspected labs in which botulism, the bubonic plague and other horrors were produced.

They had to go there early in the morning, Nunn said. Because of that, everyone missed breakfast.

Their hosts knew that. That’s why, right in the middle of the death labs, there was a spread filled with pastries.

Wary of the botulism and plague strains all around them, Nunn and most of the delegation opted not to eat.

Not Lugar.

“Dick dove right in,” Nunn chuckled.

Lugar himself once told me another story.

When he was a sports columnist for the student newspaper at Shortridge High School in the 1940s, he wrote a piece about how members of the basketball team were drinking. The drinking was affecting their play.

Lugar’s column enraged the basketball team and got him into hot water with the school principal.

But, Lugar said, the drinking stopped.

And the team got better.

Lugar’s high school classmate and friend, the author Dan Wakefield, told me the episode loomed larger in Lugar’s mind than it did with anyone else. Most people were shocked, Wakefield said, because “it was the only time he ever got in trouble.”

Still, Wakefield said, people admired Lugar’s courage for standing up for what he believed.

Years later, Wakefield said, he saw a similar scene acted out on a much larger stage.

By then, Lugar as a Republican U.S. senator from Indiana, had gone to investigate whether corrupt and autocratic Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, a close ally of the United States, had tried to steal an election from Corazon Aquino.

President Ronald Reagan, Lugar’s fellow Republican and a man Lugar admired, said Marcos had won the election.

Lugar disagreed. He said Reagan was mistaken — that Aquino had won. Marcos was trying to rob her and the Filipino people of the victory.

“Man, that took some guts,” Wakefield told me. “But, again, Dick stood up for what he believed.”

Richard Lugar died April 28. He was 87.

Most of the tributes that have flowed since his death have focused on his huge, history-shaping achievements. The role he played in making the world a safer place. The 36 years he spent in the Senate, establishing himself as the most informed voice on foreign and agricultural policy. The eight years he labored as the transformational mayor of Indianapolis, the man who guided the city away from being a culturally and economically isolated backwater into being a regional powerhouse.

All these tributes are fair and deserved.

But the tendency with a man who accomplished as much as Richard Lugar is to view him as if he were an historical monument, not a flesh-and-blood human being.

This is particularly true in Lugar’s case, because he was so disciplined in his expression. He was not a man to let his guard down with anyone but those closest to him.

But he also was not a monument.

That’s why in these early hours after his passing, I find myself thinking not of the Richard Lugar who will loom large in the history books, but of the Dick Lugar people told me about.

That Dick Lugar indulged a child’s craving for sweets even while he, as a grown and great man, battled to save thousands, even millions of lives. That Dick Lugar learned as a stripling what it meant to stand alone in defense of a principle and put the lesson to use decades later to remind both the good and the corrupt of what justice demanded.

That Dick Lugar walked our streets long before he strode the world’s stage.

He was one of us to the end.

May he rest in peace.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of journalism and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Send comments to awoods@aim