OXFORD, England – The first time I heard of Sen. Lugar, I was in middle school. My dad was driving me back from swim practice with some political show on the radio (to my grand protestations). A story about the senator aired, and I asked who that was.
 
“A true statesman,” my dad immediately replied, with an air of reverence I associated with only a few other figures. His dad, his uncle. The Pope. Ronald Reagan.
 
Sensing I still didn’t know who the man was, my dad continued, “He’s one of our U.S. senators, serves in Washington. Each state gets two. And he’s about the best you could ever ask for.”
 
Learning about Senator Lugar was one of the first ways I learned about politics, which is a little like learning about basketball by following Michael Jordan. Learning the rules of the game was inseparable from falling in love with it. Small wonder I’ve spent my whole academic career, and hope to devote my professional one, to learning about that thing he did so well while remaining so good.
 
I’ve thought about that word a lot over the years: Statesman. How it’s made to bear so much weight, the weight of a career’s achievements, of a sterling character maintained while achieving them, of the political observer’s estimation of what it means to represent a whole people, and not just those who voted for you.
 
I had only recently started to seriously follow politics when he was defeated, a victim of his own party’s excesses, but never subdued by them. If anything, the opposite; the magnitude of just how much the Senator did seems all the more impressive – almost mythically so – in an era of legislative gridlock and our tournaments of smallness. 
 
I saw him speak at Duke University my freshman year. Although I had by then already drifted to the other side of the aisle, he loomed as large as ever in my mind, answering every question with keen intelligence and care, and revealing the smiling evenhandedness that made him the enemy of ideologues everywhere.
 
And that curiosity! He was always reading, always learning. He forged a reputation as one of America’s most respected foreign policy voices through the strength of his quest to understand what he did not.
 
He reminds us that being a statesman, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t always require certainty. It requires a more nuanced and altogether rarer acknowledgment that one cannot ever know everything – but trying all the same.
 
I mentioned evenhandedness – that’s an accurate description of Senator Lugar, but it mustn’t be confused with unprincipledness. He won the kind of policy victories that are only possible when a leader is not afraid to back down from what he or she believes, after careful study and deliberation, is right. I can only imagine how difficult it was to navigate the conflicting interests involved in passing something like Unigov, but he did it. Indy would be a shadow of itself had he not.
 
That’s what made his emphasis on bipartisanship, especially through his leadership at the Lugar Center, so genuine. He knew well that Americans disagree. Of course we do. The essence of bipartisanship is not, despite what many pundits and moralizers would have you believe,  some attainment of consensus that papers over differences. 
 
The statesman knew that bipartisanship is a hardy, sometimes grudging, but nevertheless sturdy, respect for others despite principled disagreement, and a willingness to continue the conversation, always.
 
I feel the pull to resist canvassing Senator Lugar’s legacy for practical political lessons so soon. But I also feel that calling on his example is a way of honoring it. Especially when the stakes are so high, as tolerance for nuanced policy discussion wanes, as appetite for smart international cooperation around arms control – a hallmark of the Senator’s career – has all but disappeared from the right.
 
There is time enough to argue about such issues in a state and a country made safer and more humane by this consummate statesman. Thank you, Senator. 
 
Jay Ruckelshaus is a Rhodes Scholar from Indianapolis and a graduate student in politics at the University of Oxford.