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Opinion Goodbye to Bob Dole, a great American and an even greater human being

Bob Dole speaks to supporters as he announced his bid for the Republican nomination for president in Topeka, Kan., on April 10, 1995. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)

Tom Daschle, a Democrat, is a former U.S. senator from South Dakota. He served as the Democratic leader in the Senate from 1995 to 2005, including as Senate majority leader from 2001 to 2003.

I have always believed that life has no blessing like that of a good friend. To know Bob Dole, who died Sunday at age 98, was to know the truth of that statement.

Bob’s friendship was a blessing that enriched my life beyond measure. His dedication to public service, his determination to keep Washington and Congress places of civility, and his kindness to me and my wife, Linda, made our friendship a blessing as rich as life offers.

When I arrived in the Senate in 1987, Bob was one of the first senators to make me feel welcome. We served together on the Finance and Agriculture committees, and almost from the beginning seemed to have many similar views, especially in agriculture and nutrition.

Obituary: Robert J. Dole, longtime GOP leader who sought presidency 3 times, dies at 98

Bob faced the world — both its cruelties and its kindnesses — with humility, humanity and, of course, humor. I remember my first appearance with Bob after we were both elected leaders of our parties in the Senate in 1995 (our tenures briefly overlapped before he stepped down to run for president in 1996). It was at a reception where he noted that my election was received with great enthusiasm in farm country because for the first time in history, both party leaders in the Senate were from farm states. “Every farmer in America that very week had ordered a new tractor,” he said.

Bob liked to share a story from when he was first elected to Congress and a reporter asked what his agenda would be. He said, “I’m going to sit and watch for a couple of days, and then I’ll stand up for what’s right.”

Bob Dole, the longtime senator from Kansas and 1996 Republican presidential nominee, died on Dec. 5 at 98. (Video: Joshua Carroll, Jayne Orenstein/The Washington Post)

Opinion by the Editorial Board: Bob Dole led to get things done

That’s exactly what he did. He stood up for minorities early in his career when he broke party ranks and supported the landmark Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. He stood up for the elderly and worked with Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (N.Y.) to save Social Security. He stood up for the young and worked with my fellow Democratic South Dakotan Sen. George McGovern on nutrition assistance. He stood up for the disabled and worked with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) on the Americans With Disabilities Act. And he stood up for his fellow veterans as chairman of the World War II Memorial Campaign.

I know that last accomplishment in particular meant a lot to him. He once even wondered if he could be buried at the memorial. He may not receive his final rest there, but I think of Bob every time I see that monument.

Of course, these are all the things that made Bob Dole great, but, as comedic actor Will Rogers once put it (in one of Bob’s favorite sayings): “It’s great to be great, but it’s greater to be human.”

Most people have heard about the Bob Dole who heroically served and recovered from injury in World War II. But few know the Bob Dole who called up a Florida dentist in 1993 to encourage him after losing his right arm and help find him a specialist for a prosthetic arm.

Or the Bob Dole who took a detour from his 1996 presidential campaign to attend the graduation party of a young girl in Indianapolis who had been partially paralyzed by a car accident.

Or the Bob Dole who waited at airport gates for honor flights to greet veterans with a salute and a thank you.

He touched many people through his small acts of great kindness, including me. He taught me so much when I became majority leader, and the teaching didn’t stop when I left the Senate. When I lost my election in 2004, Bob was one of the first friends to offer me guidance and support. He helped me find a speakers bureau and encouraged me to join him at his law firm. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted, in part because it gave me the opportunity to spend more time with my dear friend.

Appreciation by George F. Will: The goodness of Bob Dole

I can’t help but think of the first time I said farewell to Bob — when he left the Senate in 1996. I remember he quoted a poem by Carl Sandburg in his final speech on the Senate floor: “I tell you the past is a bucket of ashes. I tell you yesterday is a wind gone down, a sun dropped in the west. I tell you there is nothing in the world, only an ocean of tomorrows, a sky of tomorrows.”

Bob didn’t always have an easy life. He faced some hard yesterdays. He endured losses — physical, political and personal. But for all he did lose, Bob never lost himself. He never lost his sense of humor. He never lost his sense of integrity. He never lost his love for his hometown of Russell, Kan., or his love for his wife, Elizabeth. And he never lost his hope for tomorrow.

His life was a testament to Will Rogers’s truth: that the things that make us human — the laughs we share and the burdens we bear — can make us great.