By Emily Ketterer
INDIANAPOLIS —Huddled under a few tents outside on a rainy afternoon, public officials, friends, family and former staffers gathered to celebrate the life of Richard Lugar as a leader on the world stage who never forgot his Hoosier roots.
Gov. Eric Holcomb, one of the politicians who paid tribute Lugar Monday, summed up his legacy by saying, “Dick Lugar could have done and been anything, but he came home.”
The former Indiana U.S. Senator and Indianapolis mayor died early Sunday morning, and a memorial was quickly set up in his honor. Holcomb joined Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and others outside the Indianapolis City-County Building in the Richard G. Lugar Plaza to remember Lugar and the impact he made on the city, the country and the people he knew.
Gov. Eric Holcomb pays tribute to the late Sen. Richard Lugar Monday. Photo by Bryan Wells, TheStatehouseFile.com
Lugar served as mayor of Indianapolis from 1968 to 1975, during which time the county and city governments merged in what became known as Uni-Gov. Before the merger, Indianapolis consisted of 60 different governments, which included Marion County, 23 cities and towns, 11 school districts, nine townships and 16 special purposes governments. Uni-Gov was a step in making Indianapolis the nationally recognized city it is today.
He ran for the United States Senate for the first time in 1974 but lost to former Sen. Birch Bayh, who died in March. A memorial service will take place in his honor at the Statehouse on Wednesday.
Lugar did win the next Senate election against Vance Hartke in 1976 and went on to serve six terms, making him the longest-serving senator in Indiana’s history. There, he became known for his work in foreign policy, particularly in preventing the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
“Although he travelled the world of diplomacy and all the hot and cold places that we still revel with today, he was the best among us, and he took us everywhere he went,” Holcomb said. “I treasured, as I’m sure all of you did, every chance you had to be with him.”
Though he was a world leader, back home in Indianapolis he is remembered as a good friend to all he knew, including one of his former Senate campaign workers, Pearl Swanigan. She met him when she worked for the city and he was Mayor Lugar. They remained friends for decades.
The last time Swanigan saw Lugar was during his final campaign for re-election, which he lost to Tea Party candidate Richard Murdoch in the 2012 primary. She was working at an absentee ballot site where Lugar stopped by to vote and recognized her.
“He was a little nervous because nobody ever ran against him, and he thought he would lose,” Swanigan said. “He asked me to not go back to work and stay with him to comfort him.”
So, she stayed, and that became her favorite memory of Lugar.
Pearl Swanigan, a long time friend of former Sen. Richard G. Lugar reminisced about her friend, for whom she campaigned. Photo by Bryan Wells, TheStatehouseFile.com
“He hugged me and thanked me, and I said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re going to win,’” Swanigan said. “He was just a great friend.” Except she was wrong.
Those who spoke of him talked about the influence Lugar had on people’s choices to get involved with politics. Hogsett said “no yardstick” could measure the impact Lugar had.
“Richard Lugar’s legacy will live on in the resolve of public leaders of all levels of government,” Hogsett said. “Leaders who embrace the challenge and the awe-inspiring potential of the values he fought for. Unity, patriotism, integrity.”
Jim Morris was former chief of staff for Lugar when he was mayor and now serves as the vice president of Pacers Sports and Entertainment. He was 24 when he started working for the former mayor, and they remained close ever since. Morris said he talked to Lugar the week before he passed and did not expect he would never talk to him again.
“To see that example, and to see how he could connect everything and what he cared about and how nice he was,” Morris said as tears welled up in his eyes. “To have that exist right next to you and to be able to see it day in and day out, other than my family and faith, it’s the greatest gift I’ve ever had.”
Emily Ketterer is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.