The first time I met Richard G. Lugar he politely — with his trademark broad smile — walked around three sides of my science fair project, and then proclaimed in that mellifluous voice, “That’s some paint job there, young man.”
That was Lugar at his best, always the diplomat.
I was proud, but I also had the feeling the then-mayor of Indianapolis was letting me down gently. I’m pretty confident that neither Niels Bohr nor Enrico Fermi had a judge comment on their science fair paint job.
Lugar was right. I had spent twice the time on the plywood backdrop that I had on the project itself, concluding that Newtonian Law couldn’t match the Humanities, and that the only way I was ever going to get near a petri dish was if it was full of Grape Nuts.
Not that I expected to win. Larry, my sixth grade friend, had actually built a solar oven. It was made of ceramic tiles and mirrors, and it focused the sun’s rays onto a metal tray. Impressive! Larry could actually cook food on that thing, if you had about seventeen hours of daylight before supper.
Lugar, who died this week at age 87, would have hundreds of opportunities through the years to work his diplomatic magic. The United State Senator (1977-2013) from Indianapolis would spend years on the world stage as a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If U.S. interests were at stake anywhere in the world, Richard Lugar was consulted.
He also served for years on the Senate Agriculture Committee, where he formulated farm policy for a generation of growers. He defended farmers’ rights to grow whatever they wanted, which was not the case before Lugar’s arrival.
Few men can back up the claim that they “made the world a safer place”. Richard Lugar can. Lugar worked for years toward dismantling nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons around the world, co-writing his most significant legislation with Georgia Democrat Sam Nunn.
The Nunn–Lugar Act put into place a mechanism to safeguard and destroy nuclear armaments following the crumbling of the Soviet Union. Protecting us from nuclear terrorism garnered Lugar a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.
Dick Lugar’s credentials backed up his intellect. Unfortunately, his brilliance did not transfer well to television, and his lack of the warm fuzziness required to succeed in national politics — and some really bad timing — led to an early departure from the 1996 Presidential Campaign. Lugar announced his bid to become the Republican nominee for President at almost the exact moment of the Oklahoma City bombings, the worst terrorist act on U.S. soil at the time.
A Rhodes Scholar, Lugar graduated a few years behind my father from prestigious Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, which no doubt accounts for the personal attention to my science fair project.
We owe a great deal — maybe even our lives — to Richard G. Lugar, an artful diplomat, and definitely more than “just some paint job.”
John O. Marlowe is a reporter, sports writer and award-winning columnist for The Paper.