It was fitting that Sen. Richard G. Lugar’s funeral service would take place the same day as the ACLI Capital Challenge race, and both Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took full advantage of the fortuitous timing.
Pence, the former Indiana governor and congressman, and McConnell, from neighboring Kentucky, were among the dignitaries who made the trip to Indianapolis for the Wednesday afternoon funeral. The group traveling aboard Air Force Two included other lawmakers, as well as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
McConnell told the story of a long-ago job interview for a policy staff role in Lugar’s Washington office, where, after the serious questions were done, the senator asked a young Marine veteran named Todd Young, “How fast can you run three miles?”
“Luckily, the young man was athletic himself,” McConnell quipped, speaking of the current senior Indiana senator and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
“Dick was thinking of his beloved Capital Challenge team race. No member of Congress has run in more of those races than Dick. His team had to be up to snuff,” the Kentucky Republican recalled. “I understand he kept a spreadsheet and logged everyone’s times.”
Pence also took the opportunity at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church to speak about the annual three-mile race.
“Every time we ran the Capital Challenge, he was always there at the finish line — to shake our hand,” Pence said. “You know, running wasn’t just how Dick Lugar kept in shape. It was a way of life. I think his running was emblematic of his passion for public service and his relentless drive to make a difference in the life of this nation.”
The vice president also spoke more broadly about Lugar’s legacy, both as mayor of Indianapolis and around the globe.
“I was always struck by the fact, no matter what capital anywhere in the world I was, as soon as I told people I was from Indiana, the next two words I heard were ‘Dick Lugar,’” Pence said. “And they were always spoken with a smile. The truth is, Sen. Lugar commanded the admiration of our allies and the respect of our enemies like very few Americans ever have.”
Pence and McConnell both mentioned that it was Lugar, as NRSC chairman back in the 1984 cycle, who took a chance on supporting a judge/executive in Jefferson County, Kentucky, named McConnell in his long-shot Senate bid.
“You felt like, if you woke Dick up at 3 a.m., he’d be perfectly friendly and sharing the latest developments in arms control before his feet hit the floor,” McConnell said.
Former Georgia Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn, Lugar’s partner on the landmark threat reduction and arms control program named after the two of them, eulogized the Indiana senator as well.
“Dick understood that passing legislation was the beginning point of Congress’ responsibility, but that oversight of implementation was just as crucial and often neglected,” Nunn said, adding that the venues of their foreign site visits to conduct oversight were seldom glamorous.
“We often found ourselves in places near the Arctic Circle, where Russian submarines were being destroyed,” the former senator remembered. “Or at a remote place in Siberia … where we put on gas masks and protective suits, and walked through deteriorating buildings containing millions of artillery tubes filled with nerve gas — enough at that one site to kill everyone on the face of the Earth.”
While Nunn did not speak as much as McConnell or Pence about Lugar’s running obsession, he did offer a glimpse at what may have been one of the reasons behind his interest in physical fitness.
“He loved to eat. He never turned down any food, anywhere. But he burned it all off, and so you would never know he was a big eater because he stayed in such top shape,” he said Wednesday. “Nothing could dull the Lugar appetite for food.”
Nunn said that was true even during a visit to a Russian facility that contained stocks of the Plague and other deadly diseases.
“His appetite could not be deterred, even by biological materials,” he said of Lugar.