The late Sen. Richard Lugar being briefed by Kenneth A. Myers III, the former director of the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency and U.S. Strategic Command Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction, at the Moscow Marriott Grand prior to meeting with Rosatom officials in Moscow in August, 2007. (HPI Photo by Brian A. Howey)
The late Sen. Richard Lugar being briefed by Kenneth A. Myers III, the former director of the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency and U.S. Strategic Command Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction, at the Moscow Marriott Grand prior to meeting with Rosatom officials in Moscow in August, 2007. (HPI Photo by Brian A. Howey)
INDIANAPOLIS – It’s just a little over 48 hours since the call came early Sunday morning that “RGL,” as Senator Richard Lugar was known to his staff, had passed during the night. The news is still sinking in while accolades for the great man, many and varied, accumulate from nearly all quarters.

With his death, a mighty titan of Indiana politics and global affairs passes from the scene. More than a few have remarked that Lugar’s passing marks the end not only of his life, but of his kind of bipartisan politics. Maybe so – supporting evidence abounds – but because Dick Lugar was quite simply the model public servant, the ideals he embodied will live on alongside his many accomplishments. Archetypes never die; they endure to be emulated. 

I’m not sure that any recitation here of his accomplishments adds much to the current remembrances of his life or leads to an understanding of him as a statesman and leader. They range in impact from the personal, to the political, to the local, to the national, and finally to the truly global. 

However, I might humbly offer that they are all rooted in one, plain truth: Right makes might. 

Lugar’s power in life and his legacy in death lay in his drive to be in the right and to do the right thing by and for his fellow man in any given “situation” (his oft-used crutch word). This altruistic motive married to a brilliant intellect and an exhausting work ethic was the key to his success.

Lugar’s approach to political leadership was first to arrive at the best possible public policy through thorough study and analysis, and then to advance that policy while gracefully engaging its opponents. Only then would he address any political fallout. I observed this principled yet all too rare approach to public service time and again while working for him in the U.S Senate (1988-92) and on his 1996 presidential campaign. To have served this servant was the highest honor.

His humility stands out, as well. Dick Lugar was a very important person who never found anyone else unimportant or unworthy of his time or attention. Presidents, heads of state and random strangers were greeted with the same engaging smile and gentlemanly, diplomatic style. He was invariably, in today’s parlance, “present” in his interactions with people. 

(One of the more engaging conversations I had with him was about an amateur racquetball league I had joined at Fort Myer in Virginia. He wanted to know all the details. The conversation occurred while I was driving him and another aide to the Pentagon for a briefing. I missed the Pentagon’s exit; Lugar was nonplussed as always but did glance down at his watch.)

His interest in and impact upon the personal lives of others was substantial. The Lugar alumni network is real and tangible. With the exception of remaining high school and college friends, I can honestly say that nearly all of my lasting, meaningful friendships have been because of or made through Dick Lugar. These personal relationships have lasted decades, enriching my life immeasurably. The senator was a great connector of people and ideas. 

Among Dick Lugar’s greatest attributes were his sense of equanimity and a wise prescience developed through deep and thoughtful study. Having had to carry his briefcase on occasion (and briefly misplacing it in transit on one Indiana-to-New Hampshire campaign swing), I can attest that its heft matched that of the man. He read voraciously – books, briefs, newspapers, newsletters, weeklies, studies, white papers, actuarial reports, People magazine – you name it and it was crammed in there. The senator was renowned as a runner but schlepping around that briefcase likely enhanced his physical fitness, as well (that of his aides, too).

His leadership in global affairs culminated with the passage of the Nunn-Lugar Act in 1991 and no single policy or piece of national security legislation has had a better return on investment than this wise, but at the time counter-intuitive and controversial, effort to pay an adversary to disarm itself. Entire nations are denuclearized today and the threat of myriad weapons of mass destruction greatly diminished as a result of Lugar’s efforts. His internationalist perspective and willingness to work with erstwhile opponents, both foreign and domestic, actually led to greater American security and prosperity. 

Dick Lugar’s greatest political sin was his eagerness to engage and work with Democrats such as Sam Nunn. It caught up to him when he lost the Republican primary to Richard Mourdock on a glum May evening in 2012 that served as a harbinger of our diminished, tribal politics of today. 

May we have many more such sinners who place public service above political self-preservation or aggrandizement. But I’m afraid there was and always will be only one Dick Lugar, beloved and missed and yearning to be emulated if never equalled. 

Thank you, Sen. Lugar. It is a cliché, but you literally made the world a better place. It feels a lesser one without you in it. 

Cameron Carter is a contributing editor at HPI, founder of the strategic communications firm Content by Carter, and former aide to the late Senator Richard G. Lugar.