D. B. Hardeman, who died last week at 67, was a distinguished student and inspired teacher about the U.S. Congress. His own career in politics and government spanned the history of four decades: legislative counselor to Speaker Sam Rayburn, field worker and strategist in the presidential campaigns of Adlai Stevenson, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson; leader of a small but merry band of Texas state legislators who resisted successfully the greed of the oil interests; Army officer in World War II from the beaches of Normandy to final victory in Germany. Those are considerable accomplishments for any person, but Hardeman's name is legend in certain Washington circles and around the country because of a rare contribution of another sort. He was a loving mentor to dozens of young men and women, gently encouraging them to live fully and decently, and hoping that along the way they might contribute something of themselves to their community and country.
As an old-fashioned, plain-spoken and modest man, he would have scoffed with amusement at the latest best-selling notions about the role of mentors in helping people get ahead. That categorization would have embarrassed him. He would be a lot more comfortable with the word "friend."
Hardeman's broad capacity for friendship was available to anyone with the ability to receive and modestly reciprocate, but his professional work drew him into contact most readily with young politicians, academics and journalists. The news bureaus of Washington, groves of academe and legislative halls of Congress are sprinkled liberally with legacies of his guiding friendships.
A reporter's introduction to the inner world of D. B. Hardeman came in a historic room on the west front of the Capitol, across the hall from Speaker Rayburn's office. There, seated behind a huge desk, under an ornate crystal chandelier, D. B. dispensed whiskey and history mixed with the opportunity to receive also friendship and wisdom. He dubbed his club "the Board of Ignorance," in playful reference to Speaker Rayburn's similar "Board of Education". What the speaker offered in fellowship and information to the powerful, D.B. offered to the young in whom he always saw promise and hope.
Reporters such as Paul Duke, Bob Abernethy and Don Bacon, academics such as Steve Horn, Dick Fenno and Randall Ripley, were drawn to this man initially by his great appreciation of the system. He could not only explain a legislative jumble in a comprehensible way, but also could relate current events to the flow of history. But beyond the business of government, this balding man in rumpled suit offered far more when he locked your concentration with his broad smile and penetrating blue eyes.
"He offered absolute acceptance," said Abernethy of NBC. He "accepted me as a new boy on the Hill, as someone who had worth, who might even be able to make a contribution. I always knew that I would both learn in his presence and have a good time, and that's the essence of the good teacher."
From Sam Rayburn, Hardeman learned the virtues of patience and to believe in the inner goodness of people. "D. B. practiced those virtues more than anyone I know," said Bacon, who with Hardeman is co-author of a forthcoming Rayburn biography.
Reaching out without inhibition or false pride in his own status, D. B. simply offered friendship, particularly to the young. Dozens of us, stretching across several generations, accepted his rare gift. We soaked up his wisdom and knowledge. We shared in his endless quest to live fully and well: history, politics, travel, food, wine, books, music, but above all--friendship and good conversation--were his enthusiasms. His skill as a storyteller added spice to our lives and an immediacy to our understanding of history. His advice and help were always available for the asking, and lots of us asked and received. As time passed, lifelong bachelor Hardeman became godparent to our children, and their mentor as well. D. B. saw in the young hopefulness and promise--promise to reach personal fulfillment, and to carry on the endless process of trying to make this a slightly better world.
Hardeman was a loyal Democrat, a fighting liberal and a defender of the underdog, but beyond any other cause he was a patriot, loyal to his country and its institutions, while ever trying to improve them. Accompanied by Don and Barbara Bacon, D. B. journeyed several months ago to the fields of Normandy to walk among the rows of white markers of the Americans who died there. He did not want to forget.
Yesterday, in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin he was buried beside the remains of his great grandfather, a hero of the Texas revolution. He came from a great legacy, and he has given us one with which to carry on.