INDIANAPOLIS – Tears flow.
I sit at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis where dignitaries and family members pay tribute to the late U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, at his memorial service.
The speakers troop up, one after another. Their mission is to capture by the spoken word a life that shaped the city, the state, the country and the world in which we now live.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, talks about Lugar’s generosity of spirit. Former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Georgia, describes Lugar’s devotion to duty and the work they did together ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction. Vice President Mike Pence speaks to Lugar’s faith.
The most moving tributes come from those closest to Lugar.
Purdue University President and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, fighting not to cry, says knowing and working for Dick Lugar made him a better person. Former United Nations World Food Programme executive director and current vice chairman of Pacers Sports & Entertainment Jim Morris, Lugar’s first chief of staff, tells his stories through tears, too.
Those stories are about how his “thrifty” boss inspired him to believe one person could help many through acts of kindness, consideration and respect.
Lugar’s sons also weep as they remember their father. They poke fun at him – as loving sons often do with their fathers – and talk about how special it was to be with him when his restless intellect and heart knew some peace.
Funerals are autumnal affairs, chances to note the shortening of days, the dimming of the light. Lugar’s is more so than most.
“It is the end of an era,” the vice president intones.
It is, in ways Pence may not realize.
The qualities that defined Dick Lugar – his civility, his devotion to reason, his openness to ideas not his own – are honored as if they were museum exhibits.
Maybe they are.
McConnell’s leadership of the Senate has trashed and traduced many of the traditions and courtesies within that body Lugar treasured. Nunn once was his party’s most respected voice on foreign policy. Now, as his party moves further leftward, he finds himself marginalized, an artifact before his time.
Pence is a practitioner of the politics of the finger-wagging, ideologically rigid politics Lugar abhorred.
Daniels passed on a run for the presidency in 2012, in part for family reasons, but also perhaps because the country was moving away from the problem-solving approach to leadership Lugar exemplified.
Maybe that is why the talk in this church on this day is so wistful, the laughs so rueful.
Pence recounts a tale of a young Dick Lugar, away at a high school journalism camp. Pence says Lugar roomed with another student and asked that student if he wanted to do evening prayers with him.
I entered this memorial service just a few feet behind that other student – Lugar’s Shortridge High School classmate, the writer Dan Wakefield.
Wakefield has told me that story about Lugar a couple of times, along with another one that I find moving.
Wakefield visited Lugar’s childhood home when they both were in high school and the future senator showed the future writer his room. There was a desk in it, with pencils sharpened and arranged as if in military formation. Wakefield told me he suspected Lugar’s mother, Bertha Lugar, had set up the boy’s desk as a way of reminding him she expected great things from him.
Another friend – former Lugar staffer and current Indiana Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers – told me Lugar’s favorite movie was “Animal House.” The statesman would watch the movie and belly-laugh the whole way through.
Was watching that raunchy, sophomoric comedy a release for him? Or a map to a path not open to the boy always burdened with enormous expectations?
The service nears its conclusion with a hymn, “Amazing Grace.”
More than a thousand gathered voices sing, "I shall possess, within the veil, a life of joy and peace."
The voices rise, saying farewell to the boy with the sharpened pencils on his desk. He became a statesman, one who saved lives by the million, only to see the world change in ways he could not have liked.
Those gathered share hugs to share grief.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.