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Remarks at a Memorial Service for Dan Dutko

August 02, 1999

First, I would like to say on behalf of Hillary and myself how grateful we are for the life of our friend and how grateful we are for all of you who have come to be with us in honoring it and for those who have spoken before. I have now laughed, and I have cried, and I still miss him terribly.

Of all the metaphors we might use about Dan, most of which are funny, I think one which is not funny that really is best is that he was a gardener, for in all of our lives he planted seeds that bore fruit. In the Psalms, it says, "A good man shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water. His leaves shall not wither. Whatsoever he do, it shall prosper." Dan made the Earth bloom, wherever he planted himself.

The work and the people he touched were his blossom. All of us in this room, those of us who are in politics, those of us who are in private life, however he knew or touched us, he made us blossom more than we would have otherwise. And therefore, as decreed in the Psalms, his memory will never wither.

Now, I have a story to tell. I met Dan Dutko 27 years ago, in one of our great lost causes. [Laughter] I mean, this is a doozy. [Laughter] We were in the McGovern campaign in Texas. [Laughter] Now, it was bad enough to be in the McGovern campaign anywhere in Texas. [Laughter] Dan insisted on leading the effort in west Texas—[laughter]—where it was hard to find anyone who would mention Senator McGovern's name.

He wanted to work for the campaign. He actually ran our effort in Tom Green County, where we got 30 percent of the vote. I might add, that was only 3 percent less than we got in the whole State. [Laughter] And everyone who looked at it thought it was the most remarkable performance of the entire campaign.

Well, all his life he loved big challenges. He stayed with me, and I turned out to be a bigger one than he bargained for. [Laughter] He was really—you know, talk about big words—he was sort of an oxymoron in popular imagination. He was someone others might call a lobbyist, whose integrity, honor were unquestioned. He became a person of consequence in Washington, even though he was born without a nickel to his name, because of that integrity and honor, because of energy and ability, and because, as you see, he had a huge network of devoted friends— enough, Rabbi, that probably we are violating some fire code here today.

He lived too briefly, but he did live the American dream. And he was a self-made man who never forgot where he came from. That's why he stayed in the Democratic Party and loved it so much. He thought everybody ought to have a chance to live out their dreams and become what God meant for them to be.

I want to say just one thing that meant a particular—a lot to me. When we got our brains beat out in the congressional elections of 1994, a lot of people became sunshine soldiers and were running for cover. Not Dan Dutko; man, he stepped out. He said, "This is just the sort of thing I'm looking for." [Laughter] Everyone wrote us off for dead, said the Democratic Party was becoming a historical artifact. Al Gore and I would have to next appear in a wax museum somewhere. [Laughter] Not Dan Dutko. He never had a doubt. He never paused. He never shirked. He was there in '96. The Vice President mentioned his role in our Inaugural in '97. He was there in '98. He was always the guy on our team that no one ever had to buck up. He was always the one who was lifting everyone else up. He was always the one who had that miraculous combination of an infectious smile and a steely will and a genuinely good heart. But most of all, he was a gardener. He planted, and what he planted bloomed.

One of the previous speakers mentioned how much he liked to take promising young people and mentor them and help them flourish. So many of you here are a testament to that, including the new Senator from my home State, Blanche Lincoln, who started her career in Washington here as his personal assistant.

One of the things that I am most grateful that he nurtured was AmeriCorps, our national service program, which Debbie now leads magnificently. Whenever we were having trouble in Congress, he was there. His heart was there. His soul was there. His determination was there. And it came not just from his devotion to his wife but from his belief that all young people should have a chance to serve.

In no small measure, because of Dan Dutko, 100,000 of those young people have had their chance to serve. Hillary told me that even over our last weekend together in Aspen, Dan was talking to her about AmeriCorps' fifth anniversary and asking folks to help out with the celebration.

So we are grateful to him not only for his help to me and the Vice President but for his role in making America a better place. Most of all, we're grateful for his friendship. We loved having Dan and Deb over to the White House to watch movies. He was like me; he liked action movies. We thought there should be a category at the Academy Awards for best performance in totally inane film. [Laughter] The last one, we saw together just last month.

I don't think I ever met a man with a more genuine smile, more direct, clear, undebatable sense of good will just coming at you over and over and over again. I'll miss the way he talked about his wife and his sons. I'll miss the fact that he was always there, in the rain as well as the sunshine.

I want Deb, and most of all, his sons, to know that he was one of the principal reasons that I had a chance to serve our country as President. And I want them to know that we all know he was a good and loving father and husband—cared more for them than his own life. And that is something that can sustain them for their lives.

This is a town obsessed with success. We normally score it by winning and losing. So if I might, I would like to close with Ralph Waldo Emerson's definition. He must have written it about Dan Dutko. "To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children. To appreciate beauty, find the best in others. To leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition. To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is the meaning of success." And the meaning of our friend's life.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:05 p.m. at Temple Sinai. In his remarks, he referred to former Senator and 1972 Democratic Presidential nominee George McGovern; Rabbi Fred N. Reiner of Temple Sinai; and Mr. Dutko's widow, AmeriCorps Director Deborah Jospin, and his sons Jonathan and Matthew.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Memorial Service for Dan Dutko Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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