WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole passed away Sunday at the age of 98. His death comes less than a year after he announced he had stage 4 lung cancer.
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation released a statement saying, “Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep. At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years.”
Dole was a proud Kansan, a veteran of World War II, an advocate for those with disabilities, and a Republican politician recognized for his ability to find compromise between battling political parties.
LIFE IN KANSAS
He was born in Russell, Kansas, on July 22, 1923. His parents Doran and Bina Dole instilled a strong work ethic as they raised Dole, his brother and his two sisters.
They weathered the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Dole helped by washing cars, delivering papers and handbills, and working as a soda jerk at Dawson’s Drugstore.
“When you add it all up, sort of the most important title is where you’re from. I’m a Kansan and I’m proud to be a Kansan.”Bob Dole
As a high school student, Dole lettered in three sports, football, basketball and track, was active in the Methodist Church, and served as a sports editor of the school’s newspaper. He graduated in 1941.
He became the first person in his family to attend college. With a $300 loan from a Russell banker, Dole was able to enroll at the University of Kansas in the fall of 1941.
WORLD WAR II
That December, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The United States declared war against Japan and joined World War II.
By June of 1943, Dole had left KU and joined the Army. He trained in the Medical Corps at Camp Barkley, Texas, took engineering classes in Brooklyn, trained in Louisiana and Kentucky, and attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
He graduated as Second Lieutenant in the Army Infantry in November 1944.
At the age of 21, Dole was assigned to I Company of the 85th Regime, specifically, the 10th Mountain Division.
The Army wanted good skiers who would be able to fight against German alpine soldiers. The Army learned it did not have enough skiing soldiers to fill an entire division and that is how Dole and many other non-skiers ended up there.
“I always wondered why coming from the flatlands of Kansas I ended up in the Mountain Division,” he later said.
Bob Dole: A Timeline
WOUNDED IN ACTION
Dole was wounded twice during WWII. The first time was March 18, 1945. He was one of several people injured in a grenade blast. A grenade fragment cut his leg. The injury was not too serious. Dole received a Purple Heart.
But the wound that happened on April 14, 1945, was critical.
“Beginning the morning of April 14, 1945, I learned the value of adversity,” he said. “A handicap can become an asset if it increases your sensitivity to others and gives you the resolve to tap whatever resources you have.”
On that morning, the Army was determined to overtake German soldiers in the mountains of northern Italy.
Dole’s platoon was assigned to take Hill 913. To get to it, soldiers had to cross a field full of mines while being shot at by snipers in the hills and by machine gunners in a stone farmhouse.
After the first platoon marched into the line of fire, the commander ordered Dole’s platoon to deal with the machine gunners in the farmhouse.
While trying to get to it, shots were fired and exploding shrapnel hit Dole in his right shoulder. He was conscious but unable to feel anything below his chin. He was also still in the line of fire.
Dole called for help. Two rounds of medics were shot trying to get to him. Sergeant Frank Carafa was able to finally get to Dole and drag him to safety.
“The men of the 10th will always be heroes in my book,” Dole later said.
The Army finally took the hill, but the cost was 98 lives lost and 462 soldiers wounded.
Just over three weeks later, on May 7, Germany surrendered.
Dole described the damage to his body as a crushed collarbone, a punctured lung, and a damaged vertebra that left him paralyzed from the neck down. He said the doctors at the military hospital in Italy did not expect him to survive. And if he did, they did not expect him to ever walk again.
“I arrived home from the war in a plaster cast that went from my ears to my hips,” Dole said. “I nearly died from a fever and lost a kidney. Six months went by before I could get out of bed. For nearly a year I couldn’t feed myself. I had to learn to walk and dress myself all over again.”
He started his recuperation in Topeka, at Winter General Hospital. In September, he got to go home to Russell where he was mostly bedridden. He weighed 122 pounds, far short of the 190 pounds he had been when he joined the Army.
His stay in Russell only lasted a month. Shortly after that, Dole was transferred to Percy Jones Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan, by November 1945.
In all, Dole was in and out of hospitals for three years, learning to walk again and trying to get use of both of his arms.
“My biggest fear was becoming an invalid forced to sell pencils on Main Street in my hometown,” he said.
The next time he got a 30-day leave, he again went home to Russell. His father created a system of weights and pulleys to help Dole with his workouts.
Dole also underwent seven operations to repair his right arm. He said the surgeon, Dr. Hampar Kelikian, “Dr. K”, was the first to shoot straight with him. Dr. K told Dole he would get back maybe 30-40% usage of his right arm.
When the surgeries were over, Dole still did not have much movement, but his arm was hanging more normally and he could lift it a little higher than his waist. One of the surgeries also allowed his right-hand fingers to loosen up enough to put something in them. Dole eventually learned that placing a pen in those fingers helped the hand appear normal. It also kept people from reaching out to shake his right hand.
He said Dr. K may not have performed a miracle on his arm, but he did perform a miracle on his attitude. Dr. K helped Dole focus on the abilities he still had instead of what he had lost.
Dr. K refused payment, but Dole still had to pay hospital expenses. His hometown of Russell, led by VFW Chapter 6240, started the Bob Dole Fund, placing a cigar box for donations at Dawson’s Drugstore. The town donated more than $1,800, enough to pay the hospital bill.
Because of his injuries and his service, Dole received two Purple Hearts. He also was awarded the Bronze Star Medal of Valor twice. In 2019, the Army promoted him to the honorary rank of colonel.
GETTING ON WITH LIFE
Dole had a love of history and spent a lot of his time at Percy Jones reading about America’s leaders and generals. He really admired Dwight D. Eisenhower who grew up in Abilene, Kansas. Dole said that Eisenhower was his personal hero.
His study of history also inspired him to consider going back to college, possibly to study law.
While Dole was still at Percy Jones, he attended a hospital dance and met Phyllis Holden, an occupational therapist from New Hampshire. She was not fazed by his injuries, she treated him like any other man, and she did not baby him. They began dating and married three months later, on June 12, 1948.
In late July, Dole retired from the Army with the rank of captain.
Doctors told Dole that because of all the blood thinners he had had, he would do better in a warmer climate. He decided to go to the University of Arizona.
Phyllis attended class with Dole to take notes for him and to write out his answers to test questions. He was determined to learn as much as possible and would stay up late memorizing lessons.
One night during dinner, Dole suffered a blood clot in his lung. He had suffered from a clot before, while at Percy Jones, and he was able to tell Phyllis to get him to a hospital right away. He recovered and finished a year at UA.
After completing a year at UA, Dole needed to transfer to a school that had a law program. He wanted to go back to KU. But because he had suffered from a couple of blood clots during his recovery, he needed to be close to a lab that could test his blood. At the time, that meant the best fit for him was Washburn in Topeka.
Phyllis continued to attend class with Dole, taking notes and transcribing his left-handed scribbles.
At some point, the Veterans Administrations gave him a Sound Scriber machine that could record lectures. Dole would carry the 30-pound machine to each class and listen to the recordings each night. It also allowed Phyllis to get work as an occupational therapist.
If Dole had to take a written exam or the bar exam, Phyllis would still help with that. He would dictate his answers and she would write them.
Dole says he was motivated to succeed by his upbringing and by the people he met while at Washburn. One of them was the law librarian, Beth Bowers. She planted the idea of a political career by suggesting Dole run for the state legislature in 1950. He was 27 and still a student.
When Dole decided to run for office, the Russell County Attorney told him that he should declare as a Republican because there are more Republicans than Democrats in Kansas. Dole said that is why he started as a Republican. He said he later became one philosophically, too.
In November of 1950, Dole beat the incumbent representative, who was a Democrat and began representing Russell County in Topeka.
He graduated from Washburn and passed his bar exams in May of 1952. Instead of running for reelection to the Kansas House, he decided to run for Russell County attorney. He won.
According to the Dole Institute, Dole’s work ethic became a legend in Russell. The light in his office at the courthouse would be on long after other businesses had closed for the night. He was making $248 a month. The courthouse janitor was making $4 more than him.
Dole was elected county attorney four times, serving a total of 8 years.
During this time, in October of 1954, the Doles had a baby girl, Robin.
By 1960, the 36-year-old politician decided to run for Congress. But to get elected to Washington, he would have to get his name known outside of Russell County.
Dole said he drove more than 40,000 miles, stopping at any farmhouse that had a light burning. He says he saw that as an invitation to drop in, introduce himself and pitch his ideas.
The town of Russell again turned out to help him. Women formed a group called Dolls for Dole who handed out “Dole” pineapple juice.
The grassroots effort paid off. Dole beat Keith Sebelius in the Republican primary and then went on to win in the general election.
“You drowned me in pineapple juice,” Sebelius said.
Dole’s main goal when he started in Congress was to represent Kansas farmers. The first hurdle he cleared was getting a seat on the House Agriculture Committee. As a first-term representative, he voted for rural electrification and soil conservation. He said he phoned back to Kansas every day.
He was reelected in 1962, 1964 and 1966, serving 8 years as a representative. During that time, he voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A lot of his constituents were opposed to those bills, but Dole considered them two of the most important votes in his political career.
In 1968, Dole ran for U.S. Senate and won. He became a force in the Republican party and, in 1971, was appointed as chairman of the Republican National Committee. That same year, he helped support amendments to the Clean Water Act.
Bob and Phyllis Dole divorced in 1972. He later said that they remained good friends and that she gave him one of the greatest joys of his life, his daughter, Robin.
That same year, the Watergate scandal broke. Dole had been close to President Richard Nixon, admiring his political skills and his work ethic. Despite the scandal, Nixon won reelection.
Dole traveled extensively in 1972 to help Republicans get elected to the House and the Senate, but many did not win. Nixon took away Dole’s chairmanship of the RNC. That decision may have saved Dole’s political career as the Watergate scandal boiled over in 1974.
The ‘74 race was a close call for Dole. Nixon resigned in August and Democrats were pointing fingers at Republicans, like Dole, who had supported him.
Dole’s Democratic opponent was Congressman Bill Roy. Dole was trailing Roy in the polls when the two agreed to a debate at the Kansas State Fair. Dole thought the debate would be about agriculture, but Roy kept attacking Dole’s voting record.
But the debate turned on Roy when Dole brought up the fact that Roy, a medical doctor, performed legal abortions. Dole told the crowd that Roy did “abortions on demand.” The crowd booed. It is believed to be the first time abortion came up in a political debate.
The ‘74 election was also the first time Dole hired professionals to handle his advertising. Robin Dole took a break from college to campaign across Kansas with Dole’s mother. In the end, Dole beat Roy by a slim margin.
Dole said the things he learned that year made him a better senator. The Dole Institute says it also marked the beginning of a new stage in his career with increased bipartisanship and outreach to Democrats.
Dole got married for the second time in 1975. He and his wife, Elizabeth Hanford Dole, would become one of Washington’s most well-known power couples.
At the Republican National Convention In 1976, Gerald Ford chose Dole as his running mate instead of keeping his liberal Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. It was a surprise to Dole who thought Ford was going to choose Texas Governor John Connally.
After the convention, Ford and Dole made Russell the first stop on their campaign. It was an emotional visit for Dole who got choked up as he spoke to his hometown crowd. As he paused and covered his face, the townspeople broke into loud applause and cheered him on.
Jimmy Carter was the Democratic candidate. He had the lead in the polls for a while, but by election day, the race was too close to call. In the end, Carter won 51% to 48%.
Dole returned to his role as U.S. Senator for Kansas. This time, it was with the national recognition he achieved during the presidential election.
In May of 1979, he decided to run for president. Ronald Reagan was the favorite and Dole withdrew from the race in March of 1980.
Instead, Dole ran for reelection to the Senate and won. The 1980 election put Republicans in control of the Senate for the first time in 25 years.
“We made history on a daily basis, almost hourly basis in 1981,” he said.
Dole was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, playing a key role in tax cuts, saving Social Security from going broke, getting hospice benefits for Medicare patients, and many other bills.
Bob and Elizabeth Dole started The Dole Foundation in 1983, raising money to help those with handicaps get job training and work. That is also the year that President Reagan appointed Elizabeth as Secretary of Transportation.
In 1985, Bob Dole was elected Majority Leader of the Senate. He described it as being part ringmaster, part traffic cop.
Dole went on to win a fourth term in the Senate. This time, the Democrats had the majority, but Dole was still the leading Republican, often appearing on TV.
He ran for president again in 1987, making the announcement in his hometown of Russell. Elizabeth resigned as Transportation Secretary to help with his campaign.
Dole won the Iowa caucus, but Vice President George H.W. Bush took the lead with the New Hampshire primary. Dole withdrew in March of 1988 and Bush went on to win the election. Bush appointed Elizabeth as Secretary of Labor.
Bob Dole was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had surgery for it in 1991. He became a spokesman for men to get checked for prostate cancer.
He also was outspoken about one of the side effects of the surgery, erectile dysfunction. Dole was treated with an experimental drug that ended up being Viagra. He spoke about it on national television and Viagra later hired him as a spokesperson.
In 1992, Dole won a fifth term representing Kansas in the Senate. It was also the year that President Bush lost reelection to Bill Clinton. With Bush out of the White House, Dole became the face of the Republican Party. From 1995 to 1996, he was also reelected as Senate Majority Leader.
Dole was so well known by that time, he decided to try for the presidency for the third time. He announced his candidacy in April of 1995. There were other Republican contenders, but Dole prevailed and won the GOP nomination.
He retired from the Senate in June of 1996 to focus his attention on the election. In all, he represented Kansas in Congress for 35 years. During all that time, he kept a reminder of Russell in his desk – the cigar box that the people of Russell filled with donations to help pay his medical bills after he was injured in WWII.
Dole chose Jack Kemp as his running mate. The campaign was difficult and they could not overcome Clinton’s lead in the polls. Clinton was reelected 49% to Dole’s 41%.
LIFE AFTER POLITICS
Bob Dole stayed busy outside of politics. He was an author, writing books about his injuries in WWII and his recovery, about political humor and wit, and about his marriage and partnership with his wife.
His quick wit and self-deprecating sense of humor made him a popular guest with late-night talk show hosts like Jay Leno and David Letterman and a frequent guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Larry King Live. He also made appearances on Saturday Night Live and sitcoms.
Dole did commercials for a number of products including Pepsi, Visa and Viagra.
He also got involved in some issues that were important to him. From 1997 to 2001, he served as chair of the International Commission on Missing Persons.
It was also in 1997 that the chancellor of the University of Kansas asked Dole to entrust his 35 years of congressional papers to the school. Dole and KU worked together to develop the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics. Construction began in 2001. The building was finished in 2003, and the dedication was on Dole’s 80th birthday, July 22.
The Dole Institute is dedicated to public service, training leaders, and the idea that politics is an honorable profession.
Perhaps the biggest, most public project Dole became involved in after the 1996 election was the creation of the World War II Memorial which is located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Starting in 1997, Dole chaired the WWII Memorial Campaign which raised $197 million for the memorial. Construction began in 2001 and opened in 2004. Dole spoke at the dedication.
“What we dedicate today is not a memorial to war, rather it’s a tribute to the physical and moral courage that makes heroes out of farm and city boys and that inspires Americans in every generation to lay down their lives for people they will never meet, for ideals that make life itself worth living,” he said.
Dole and his former rival President Clinton joined together in 2001 to co-chair the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund fundraising. Together, they raised more than $100 million in less than a year.
In 2007, Dole and three other former Senate majority leaders founded the Bipartisan Policy Center. It’s a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that tries to advance the best ideas from both parties to improve health, security and opportunities for Americans.
In November of 2020, the Honor Flight Network chose Dole as the first member and inaugural chair of its Ambassadors Program. Dole was known for making time to visit with Honor Flight veterans at the WWII Memorial, sometimes on a weekly basis.
Bob Dole is imprinted in the fiber of American politics. The bills he fought for and were enacted affect every American – food stamps, farm bill, disabilities act, Social Security, civil rights. The two that he was most proud of are Social Security and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
He was part of some of the most important reforms and legislation in American history. And the key to Bob Dole was, he was willing to work on a bipartisan basis.”Bob Beatty, Kansas political expert
Americans With Disabilities Act: Dole’s very first speech in the Senate, April 14, 1969, was on the difficulties facing those with disabilities. Change did not happen overnight. With Dole’s help and bipartisan skills, the ADA became law in 1990. It protects people with disabilities from discrimination.
Social Security: In the 70s and early 80s, there was fear Social Security would run out of money. Dole served on the National Commission on Social Security Reform. The members eventually reached a compromise on how to save the program, but they could not get Congress to approve it. In 1983, Dole and Sen. Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat, joined forces and broke a legislative stalemate, saving Social Security.
Equal Rights Amendment: Dole supported women’s rights and was among the 84 senators who voted in favor of the amendment in 1972. He said it would allow women the opportunity to make choices about their futures.
Civil Rights Act of ‘64, Voting Rights Act of ‘65: These acts protected people’s rights no matter their race or skin color. Though many Kansans were originally against these bills, Dole supported the bills and considered them two of the most important votes of his career.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Bill: Dole supported the effort to create a federal holiday in honor of Dr. King, Jr., as early as 1970. He co-sponsored the bill in 1983 and, despite opposition, it passed.
Farm Bills: Dole stayed true to his Kansas roots throughout his time in Washington. He served on both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees and had a hand in more than two decades of farm legislation. The Farm Bill of 1985 was one of the most crucial bills. The 5-year bill cut costs, but kept subsidies intact.
Food Stamps: Before 1977, people who needed food stamps had to pay money to get them. The poorest people, who needed the food stamps the most, could not afford them. Dole and Democrat George McGovern worked across the aisle to rewrite the program. They got the Food Stamp Reform Act passed, revolutionizing the program.
Animal Welfare: Dole introduced and supported changes that would protect the rights of animals in laboratory experiments, set humane standards for slaughter at meatpacking facilities, and protect animals from cruelty.
International Politics: Over his years in American politics, Dole had a hand in international politics, interacting with world leaders. In 1987, it was Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega. In 1989, he was in Poland for the country’s first democratic election in 45 years. He scolded fellow senators for not acknowledging the Armenian genocide. He spoke up for Bosnia-Herzegovina and against Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic when others would not. In 1990, Dole visited Iraq to meet with Saddam Hussein regarding reports that Iraq was making chemical and biological weapons. From 1997 to 2001, Dole served as chairperson of the International Commission on Missing Persons.
1970 – Freedom’s Foundation Award, which honors people and organizations that set examples in responsible citizenship, free enterprise education, and long-term civic accomplishments
1986 – Albert Schweitzer Medal from the Animal Welfare Institute for “outstanding contributions to animal welfare”
1988 – Horatio Alger Award, honoring personal initiative, perseverance, leadership, commitment to excellence
1989 – Presidential Citizens Medal, awarded by President Ronald Reagan, for those who perform exemplary deeds for their country
1997 – American Legion’s Distinguished Service Medal
1997 – Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Bill Clinton. The certificate signed by the president said, “From foreign battlefields to the halls of Congress, Bob Dole has served his country with courage, dedication, and grace. Overcoming his own adversity, he rose to become a champion for the disabled and America’s farmers, for preserving Social Security and promoting fiscal responsibility, and for strengthening our global leadership for freedom, peace, and prosperity. A man of the heartland, he brought common sense, uncommon skill, and a prairie wit to the United States Senate, where he was the longest-serving Republican leader in history. Soldier, statesman, and patriot, Bob Dole has created a record of achievement that will stand forever as tribute to the strengths and values that have made America great.”
1997 – John Heinz Award for Outstanding Public Service by an Elected Official
1998 – Distinguished Public Service Award, the Department of Defense’s highest civilian award
1998 – Theodore Roosevelt Award, the highest honor the NCAA may confer on an individual
2001 – Freedom Award presented by the Armenian National Committee of America
2004 – American Patriot Award by the National Defense University Foundation
2004 – Golden Medal of Freedom from the president of Kosovo
2004 – Sylvanus Thayer Award, presented by the West Point Association of Graduates, to a citizen whose service and accomplishments exemplify the West Point motto of Duty, Honor, Country
2008 – World Food Prize honoring exceptional achievement toward increasing the quantity, quality, or access to food
2015 – Survivor’s Gratitude Award, Hero of Responsibility and Principle, from the National Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Centennial (NCAGC)
2016 – ASPCA Presidential Service Award for his work to prevent cruelty to animals
2018 – Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor awarded by Congress
2019 – World War II Foundation Leadership Award
2019 – Congress passed a bill promoting Dole from captain to colonel