TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Bob Dole, who died Sunday at age 98, overcame disabling war wounds to become a sharp-tongued Senate leader from Kansas, a Republican presidential candidate and then a symbol and celebrant of his dwindling generation of World War II veterans.
During his 36-year career on Capitol Hill, Dole became one of the most influential legislators and party leaders in the Senate, combining a talent for compromise with a caustic wit, which he often turned on himself but didn’t hesitate to turn on others, too.
He shaped tax policy, foreign policy, farm and nutrition programs and rights for the disabled, enshrining protections against discrimination in employment, education and public services in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Today’s accessible government offices and national parks, sidewalk ramps and the sign-language interpreters at official local events are just some of the more visible hallmarks of his legacy and that of the fellow lawmakers he rounded up for that sweeping civil rights legislation 30 years ago.
Dole devoted his later years to the cause of wounded veterans, their fallen comrades at Arlington National Cemetery and remembrance of the fading generation of World War II vets.
He tried three times to become president. The last was in 1996, when he won the Republican nomination only to see President Bill Clinton reelected. He sought his party’s presidential nomination in 1980 and 1988 and was the 1976 GOP vice presidential candidate on the losing ticket with President Gerald Ford. Dole visited Clinton County in September 1976 during that campaign.
Through all of that he carried the mark of war. Charging a German position in northern Italy in 1945, Dole was hit by a shell fragment that crushed two vertebrae and paralyzed his arms and legs. The young Army platoon leader spent three years recovering in a hospital and never regained use of his right hand.
Dole became Senate leader in 1985 and served as either majority or minority leader, depending on which party was in charge, until he resigned in 1996 to devote himself to pursuit of the presidency.
In September 2017, Congress voted to award Dole its highest expression of appreciation for distinguished contributions to the nation, a Congressional Gold Medal. That came a decade after he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Robert Joseph Dole was born July 22, 1923, in Russell, a western Kansas farming and oil community. He was the eldest of four children.
He met his second wife, Elizabeth Dole, while she was working for the Nixon White House. She also served on the Federal Trade Commission and as transportation secretary and labor secretary while Dole was in the Senate. They married in 1975.