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Eulogy at Memorial Services for Senator Dirksen of Illinois

September 09, 1969

Mrs. Dirksen, Mr. Vice President, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the Congress, Members of the Cabinet, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Your Excellencies, and friends of Everett Dirksen throughout the Nation:

When Daniel Webster died more than a century ago, a man who differed strongly with him on many public issues rose in Congress to say this in eulogy: "Our great men are the common property of the country."

Everett Dirksen, of Illinois, was and is the "common property" of all the 50 States.

Senator Dirksen belonged to all of us because he always put his country first. He was an outspoken partisan, he was an individualist of the first rank, but he put his nation before himself and before his party.

He came to the Nation's Capital in 1932, and his public service spanned an era of enormous change in the life of our country. He played a vital part in that change. That is why it is so difficult to think of the Washington scene, of this Capitol, without him.

Only his fellow legislators, the Senators and Representatives who have gathered here today and who mourn his loss across the Nation, know the full extent of his contribution to the process of governing this country.

They know the time and concern he put into their bills, their causes, their problems. They know another side to Everett Dirksen--the side in the committees and behind the scenes where so much of the hard work and the hard bargaining is done, where there is so little that makes headlines and so much that makes legislation.

Through four Presidencies, through the adult life of most Americans living today, Everett Dirksen has had a hand in shaping almost every important law that affects our lives.

Everett Dirksen was a politician in the finest sense of that much abused word. If he were here, I think he might put it this way:

A politician knows that more important than the bill that is proposed is the law that is passed.

A politician knows that his friends are not always his allies, and that his adversaries are not his enemies.

A politician knows how to make the process of democracy work, and loves the intricate workings of the democratic system.

A politician knows not only how to count votes, but how to make his vote count.

A politician knows that his words are his weapons, but that his word is his bond.

A politician knows that only if he leaves room for discussion and room for concession can he gain room for maneuver.

A politician knows that the best way to be a winner is to make the other side feel it does not have to be a loser.

And a politician--in the Dirksen tradition-knows both the name of the game and the rules of the game, and he seeks his ends through the time-honored democratic means.

By being that kind of politician, this "Man of the Minority" earned the respect and affection of the majority. And by the special way he gave leadership to legislation, he added grace and elegance and courtliness to the word "politician."

That is how he became the leader of a minority, and one of the leaders of our Nation. And that is why, when the Senate worked its way, Everett Dirksen so often worked his way.

That is why, while he never became President, his impact and influence on the Nation was greater than that of most Presidents in our history.

He was at once a tough-minded man and a complete gentleman. He could take issue without taking offense. And if that is an example of the "old politics," let us hope that it always has a place in the politics of the future.

He is a man to be remembered, as we remember the other giants of the Senate-the Websters and Calhouns, the Vandenbergs and the Tafts.

Some will remember his voice--that unforgettable voice that rolled as deep and majestically as the river that defines the western border of the State of Illinois he loved so well. Others will remember the unfailing---often self-deprecating--sense of humor which proved that a man of serious purpose need never take himself too seriously.

Others will remember the mastery of language, the gift of oratory that placed him in a class with Bryan and Churchill, showing, as only he would put it, that "The oil can is mightier than the sword."

But as we do honor to his memory, let us never forget the single quality that made him unique, the quality that made him powerful, made him beloved: the quality of character.

Everett Dirksen cultivated an appearance that made him seem old-fashioned, an incarnation of a bygone year. But that quality of character is as modern as a Saturn V.

As he could persuade, he could be persuaded. His respect for other points of view lent weight to his own point of view. He was not afraid to change his position if he were persuaded that he had been wrong. That tolerance and sympathy were elements of his character and that character gained him the affection and esteem of millions of his fellow Americans.

We shall always remember Everett Dirksen in the terms he used to describe his beloved marigolds: hardy, vivid, exuberant, colorful--and uniquely American.

To his family, his staff, and his legion of friends who knew and loved Everett Dirksen, I would like to add a personal word.

There are memorable moments we will never know again--those eloquent speeches, the incomparable anecdotes, those wonderfully happy birthday parties.

But he, least of all, would want this to be a sad occasion. With his dramatic sense of history, I can hear him now speaking of the glory of this moment.

As a man of politics, he knew both victory. and defeat.

As a student of philosophy, he knew the triumph of and the tragedy and the misery of life.

And as a student of history, he knew that some men achieve greatness, others are not recognized for their greatness until after their death. Only a privileged few live to hear the favorable verdict of history on their careers.

Two thousand years ago the poet Sophocles wrote: "One must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been."

We who were privileged to be his friends can take comfort in the fact that Everett Dirksen--in the rich evening of his life, his leadership unchallenged, his mind clear, his great voice still powerful across the land--could look back upon his life and say: The day has indeed been splendid.

Note: The President spoke at 12:14 p.m. at the Capitol Rotunda.

Richard Nixon, Eulogy at Memorial Services for Senator Dirksen of Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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