Former senator Bob Dole remembered at KU institute in Lawrence

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Flags flew at half-staff across Kansas on Monday following the death of a local and global political giant.

Bob Dole, former U.S. Senator and one-time GOP presidential candidate, died Sunday at age 98.

Congressional leaders announced Monday that Dole’s casket will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday – a final tribute reserved for the country’s most eminent citizens.

From Kansas, Dole is best known for his service in World War II and overcoming battle wounds to eventually become a politician. He served in Congress 36 years, culminating with a losing run for the presidency in 1996.

His biography is echoed in memories shared at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. People visiting the museum said they felt his death was not unexpected (he was recently diagnosed with lung cancer), but it is still an emotional moment.

One staff member said that on Sunday morning, just hours before his death was announced, she received a personalized Christmas gift from him in the mail. She said that it was those continued acts of kindness that defined him as a individual.

The walls at the Dole Institute tell the more detailed life story, but it was also distilled down by Bob Freeman, a university employee and a lifelong resident of Kansas.

“He was a Kansan,” Freeman said. “And my dad was a Kansan. And they were all World War II guys. So, it mattered. He mattered.”

Kansas state Rep. Barbara Ballard coordinates programming at the space. She said Dole’s continued impact reflects a yearning for politics perhaps with less contention.

“It’s kind of unusual – when you think about it – that I’m here because I’m a Democrat. And a very proud Democrat by the way,” Ballard said.

“I have never regretted my decision to come here,” Ballard said. “I think especially at this time when it seems like everything is so polarized and everything else that you can look at a person and realize that they reached across the aisle. They were trying to make a difference.”

Walter Riker was Dole’s press secretary through the ’80s into the ’90s. He said even nearing the end, Dole was humble.

“I live in Wyoming now. And all of a sudden my cell phone would ring and it would be Bob Dole calling me. And it’s incredible. And it was humble. But that thing that was most incredible was he was calling me to thank me and many other staffers for everything that we ever did for him. And he didn’t have to do that. But that’s the kind of a man he was,” Riker said.

It is a personality trait confirmed by stories going back a long time, even to a family day trip that Freeman only remembers from a photo featuring a dog.

“We have the picture. I was just this little toe-headed kid, the last of five. So I was just there. Middle of summer. But it’s a good picture,” Freeman said. “And I just remembered today that nobody could remember whose dog that was.”

Dole was also the final big ticket presidential candidate to have served in World War II. Some visitors reflected on that journey, from being left for dead in the mud of Italy in 1945 to the heights of American political power with a personality still remembered fondly today.

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