Bob Dole, a Republican political icon from Kansas whose career spanned decades in the U.S. Senate and included a presidential run in 1996, died Sunday at the age of 98.
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation confirmed his death after a battle with lung cancer. Dole had revealed in February 2021 that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and was undergoing treatment.
"It is with heavy hearts we announce that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep," the foundation wrote on Twitter. "At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years."
Former Senator Bob Dole attends the Senate Finance Committee full hearing on the nomination of the U.S Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington, DC March 14, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Tasos KATOPODIS (Photo credit should read TASOS KATOPODIS/AF
Dole, a native of Russell, Kansas, represented the state in the U.S. Senate from 1969 to 1996, serving part of that time as Senate Majority Leader where he set a record at the time as the longest-serving Republican leader.
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.
He was the Republican nominee in the 1996 U.S. presidential election but ultimately lost to Democrat Bill Clinton, who went on to serve his second term. Dole was also the GOP vice presidential nominee to presidential candidate Gerald Ford in the 1976 U.S. presidential election, but they lost to Democrats Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. He had unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination in 1980 and 1988.
Earlier in his political career, Dole was a Republican member of the Kansas state legislature from 1951 to 1953. He also served as Russell County attorney before being elected to the U.S. House in 1960 — where he served until 1969.
Born on July 22, 1923, Dole was part of a working class family. His father, Doran, ran a stand that sold eggs and cream, Biography.com reported. His mother, Bina, sold sewing machines and vacuum cleaners as a traveling saleswoman, the website reported. Dole had one brother, Kenny, and two sisters, Gloria and Norma Jean. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, Dole and his family moved into the basement of their home and rented out their upstairs to oilfield workers.
Having had a religious upbringing, he once said, "As a young man in a small town, my parents taught me to put my trust in God, not government, and never confuse the two."
He left the University of Kansas to serve in the Army during World War II. He became a second lieutenant and was seriously injured while fighting in Italy in 1945, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. He was wounded by German machine gun fire and suffered near-total paralysis, after which his recovery took almost four years. He was left without the use of his right arm and hand, according to the encyclopedia. The medics who examined Dole thought he would be unlikely to survive, Biography.com reported, but he made a better recovery than expected.
Because of his paralyzed right arm and hand, Dole often kept a pen in his right hand to make it appear less unusual during public appearances, according to Biography.com. For his military service, he was awarded two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Star.
After recovering for more than three years, Dole attended the University of Arizona to study liberal arts after taking advantage of the G.I. bill, which provided veterans with financial assistance for their education, Biography.com reported. After a year at the University of Arizona, he returned to Kansas to study law at Washburn Municipal College in Topeka.
Dole was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1968. From 1971 to 1973, he served as chairman of the Republican National Committee under President Richard Nixon. He served as majority leader in the Senate from 1984 to 1986 and then again from 1994 to 1996.
During his recovery, Dole met his first wife, Phyllis Holden, who worked as a nurse in a Michigan hospital, where he received care. The couple wed in 1948 and were married for 23 years before divorcing in 1972. He later married Elizabeth Hanford in 1975, a former Republican senator of North Carolina who lost her seat in the 2008 elections, and the pair remained married.
Dole clinched the Republican presidential nomination in March 1996, after which he retired from the Senate in June to focus on his campaign against Clinton. Though he lost the election, Dole continued to be involved in politics, giving endorsements and commenting on public issues, according to the Associated Press.
Dole's service earned him many accolades. In 1997, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his public service. In 2018, he became only the eighth senator to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2019, he was promoted from captain to colonel for his service in WWII.
He served with Clinton following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as co-chairman of a scholarship fund for the families of the victims. In 2005, he published the memoir One Soldier's Story, which details his harrowing experience on and off the battlefield.
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.
Thousands of old soldiers massed on the National Mall in 2004 for what Dole, speaking at the dedication of the World War II Memorial there, called "our final reunion." He’d been a driving force in its creation. "Our ranks have dwindled," he said then. "Yet if we gather in the twilight it is brightened by the knowledge that we have kept faith with our comrades."
Dole revealed his cancer diagnosis amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and had said in a short statement: "While I certainly have some hurdles ahead, I also know that I join millions of Americans who face significant health challenges of their own."
This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.