Elizabeth Dole

Trevecca Nazarene University - Sept. 15, 2011

Elizabeth Dole
September 15, 2011— Nashville, Tennessee
Print friendly

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, for that wonderful warm welcome. And Dr. Guenther thank you for your extremely kind words of introduction. Ladies and gentlemen it is such a privilege to be with you today, and to join Dr. Gunter—both Dr. Gunters, Nina and Moody- and Dr. and Mrs. Boone, Dr. Tim Green, and all of you, the students, faculty and members of the Trevecca Nazarene community. And I want to say it is a great pleasure to meet many of Dr. Gunters' family members today too; we had a wonderful visit earlier this morning. And what an honor it is to congratulate Vera Pendergraft. Can you believe that the two of us have lived in a tiny, little town—southern town- of 25,000 people? Isn't it a small world, Vera? I hope we'll have a chance to see much more of you in the future, and I enjoyed visiting with you about your plans and all that you hope to do in service.

Well I want to let you all know that this morning, as I was coming in, someone asked me, "What's Bob Dole doing now?" And I looked at my watch and I said, "Well, I think right about now he's making the bed." And this goes back to a time when Bob was running for president in 1996, and a "People" magazine photographer wanted to come into our apartment to make some pictures. And somehow or another, he found his way up to the bedroom, and so he took a picture of the two of us as we were making the bed.

And this picture went all over America in "People" magazine, and a very irate man, Mr. H.K. Bate in California, wrote to my husband and said, "Dr. Sen. Dole, about that picture of you and your wife making the bed in "People" magazine? I am now helping my wife make the bed." He said, "Please sir, no more of that domestic cooperation because you're getting all of us fellas out here in a heck of a lot of trouble." Bob wrote back and he said, "Buster, you don't know the half of it. The only reason she was there is because the camera was there."

But seriously, I will tell you a little bit more of what Bob Dole is doing in a few minutes. But you know, I've long been an admirer of this great university. Trevecca is not just an institution of higher learning, it's also one of higher yearning. Here for 110 years, generations of students have been empowered to enter into lives of service and leadership. Here generations of students have been instilled with the timeless values of honesty, integrity, love of family, love of country and love of God. These values are truly reflected in Trevecca's motto, which you've already focused on this morning. Which, by the way, another coincidence, is also the motto of my home state of North Carolina, to be rather than to seem.

Let me also say that it's humbling indeed to receive an award bearing Nina Gunter's name. Dr. Billy Graham once said, "We are not cisterns made for hoarding, we are channels made for sharing." Throughout her remarkable career, Nina Gunter has turned those words into action. This university and the church of the Nazarene, here in America and around the world, have benefitted richly from her wisdom, her warmth and her visionary leadership. And Nina, I happen to know that you celebrated a birthday just a few days ago, and I know that everyone here joins with me in wishing you many, many more years of health, happiness and continued contributions. God bless you.

And I pledge to you, Nina, to you, President Boone, and to all those present that I will not regard my award as recognition of past achievements, but rather I will regard it as a reminder, a challenge, that there is still work to be done, there's still those who need our help- desperately need our help and compassion. There's still great causes that cry out for service and leadership.

When President Boone invited me to Trevecca, he asked that I offer some reflections on my life and career in public service, but he also wanted me to share a bit of my faith during, so I've been trying to weave those two together, and let me begin with my witness, which, ladies and gentlemen, contains no road to Damascus experience. My spiritual journey began many years ago in that Carolina home where Sunday was the Lord's day, reserved for acts of mercy and necessity, and the gospel was as much a part of our lives as fried chicken and azaleas in the spring. My grandmother, Momma Kathy, who lived within two weeks of her 100th birthday, was a beautiful Christian role model. I remember many Sunday afternoons with other neighborhood children in her home, the lemonade and cookies. Frankly, at that time, that may have been what enticed us. The Bible games and listening to Momma Kathy as she read from her Bible, which is now one of my most cherished possessions. She practiced what she preached, and she lived her life for others. In a tragic accident, Momma lost a son at the hands of a drunk driver. Her son, Vernon, had just finished college, and he was about to be married, when a drunk driver veered over into his lane and hit him head on. And of course, I never met him, he died before I was born, but as he lay in that hospital room, I've heard this story many times of what he said to my grandmother, he said, "Mom, please don't worry. I'm ready to cross the great divide." The insurance policy on his life built a hospital wing in a far-off church mission in Pakistan. For although Mom was not at all a wealthy woman, almost anything she could spare went to ministers at home and missions abroad. And when it became necessary in her nineties to go into a nursing home, she welcomed the idea. I can still hear her saying, "Elizabeth, there might be some people there who don't know the Lord, and I can read the Bible to them." That was her mission.

I loved to find her notes in the margins of her Bible. Notes that were written in the middle of the night when she couldn't sleep. For example, I find by Psalm 139 this notation: "May 11, 1952, 1 a.m. night prayer." And then here's the scripture: "Search me oh God and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

I can't remember a single unkind word escaping Mom's lips in all the years I knew her, or an ungracious deed [unintelligible] her path. Indeed, my grandmother was an almost perfect role model, and how I wanted to be like her. From an early age, I've always had a very active church life, but as we move along, how often in our busy lives something can become a barrier to total commitment of one's life to the Lord. In some cases it may be money, power, or prestige. In my case, my career in our nation's capital became of paramount importance. I worked very hard to excel, to achieve, and I was really not competing against others. I was competing against myself. You know, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing your best. And indeed, yes, we do need to work hard for the things we believe in, but I thought I had to do it seven days a week. I mean, to be ready for my workweek, I had to work all day Sunday too.

So it's very hard, you know, when you're trying to control everything, surmount every difficulty, foresee every problem, realize every opportunity- that can be pretty tough on your family, your friends, your fellow workers and on yourself. In my case, it began crowding out what Momma Kathy had taught me were life's most important priorities. I prayed a lot about this, and I believe—no faster than I was ready- God led me to people and circumstances that made a real difference in my life. I found a tremendously sensitive, caring pastor who helped me see what joy there could be when we make a total commitment to the Lord, when He is the center of my life, not my career, and all else flows from that center. And I suddenly realized I had been neatly compartmentalizing God, cramming him into a crowded file drawer of my life, somewhere between gardening and government. But Jesus tells us, if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life, will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the Gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Hard words to swallow when you're terribly busy doing your own thing, but the most compelling logic I have ever heard.

For if Christ is who He says He is, our Savior, the central figure in all of history, who gives meaning to a world of confusing, conflicting priorities, then I had to realize Christ could not be compartmentalized. It would be different if I believed that Jesus was just a good teacher. Then perhaps I could have put his book away on my shelf. Or if I thought that he was just a prophet. Even then I might have been tempted to fall in the way. But I knew that Jesus Christ was my lord and my savior, the risen Lord, who lives today sovereign over all. And I knew it was time to cease living life backwards, time to strive to put Christ first, preeminent, with no competition, at the very center of my life. It was time to submit my resignation as master of my own little universe, and Jesus accepted my resignation. I began to realize that it is not what I do that matters, but what the sovereign Lord chooses to do through me, that Jesus doesn't want worldly successes. He wants my heart in submission to Him. Life is not just a few years to be spent on self-indulgence and career advancement. It's a privilege, a responsibility, a stewardship, to be lived according to a much higher calling, God's calling. This alone gives true meaning to life.

Total commitment to Christ is a high and difficult calling, and one that I will struggle and strive to live up to the rest of my life, but I know that for me, and for each of you, it's the only life worth living, the only life worthy of our Lord. I've shared with you some memories of my grandmother, Momma Kathy. I'd be remiss, however, if I didn't tell you that throughout my life, my mother, her daughter, married Kathy [unintelligible], also provided solid advice, good common sense, and the joy that comes from living a life in service to others. Mother passed away eight years ago at the age of 102, now remember my grandmother lived through 100, my mother to almost 103, now I've got a lot of years to fill, don't I? But not a day goes by that I don't think of the lessons my mother taught or the examples she provided. I can still remember as if it were yesterday the conversation that mother and I had, soon after I accepted the job as president of the American Red Cross. She recalled that during WWII, she had been a Red Cross volunteer, and she said, Elizabeth, nothing I ever did made me feel so important. Ever since that conversation, when I've spoken to an audience of young people or college students, I've shared with them, just as I did with you, my mother's words. I do so because, along with a total commitment to Christ, I believe the other key to a rewarding life is to find causes that you feel passionately about, that flow from your faith, to find that sense of mission, be it as a volunteer, as a spouse, parent or in the workplace. That passion that leads you to say, nothing I ever did ever made me feel so important. I found my sense of mission in the field of public service.

Indeed throughout my career, I've been blessed with the opportunity to serve in positions that were more than just a line on a resume. Rather, they were opportunities to make a positive difference in the lives of others. As Federal Trade Commissioner, I dedicated myself to the cause of giving American consumers lower prices, better quality goods, and expanded choices. And my special mission field there was to help those that were most disadvantaged. As Secretary of Transportation and a member of Cabinet, my job was to build public support for President Reagan's agenda to reduce taxes and regulations here at home and to restore America to her rightful place as leader of the free world. More specifically, I found my mission in working to make America's highways, railroads and airways safer than ever. As Secretary of Labor, my top priority was to ensure, again, safety. Safety of our workforce. And to see that our schools were providing our youth with the skills necessary to compete and succeed in an ever more competitive global marketplace. As President of the American Red Cross, I went to work each day alongside an army of 1.3 million volunteers and 32,000 paid staff. They were dedicated to reaching out to those in dire human need. And as a United State senator and member of the Armed Services Committee, I raised my voice on behalf of our young men and women fighting to protect our freedoms and providing for the needs of their families, military families. When I first came to Washington, fresh out of law school, some of my classmates said back then that I had stars in my eyes when it came to my desire to work for government service, and perhaps I did, but my years as a servant to the public were everything I hoped for, and truth be told they were much more than I hoped for because when I entered public service, many doors were still very firmly closed to women.

In fact, early in my career, I was scheduled to meet with some out-of-town businessmen at the Metropolitan Club in Washington. Much to my surprise, when I tried to enter, I was stopped, and a man standing there said, "You can't go in here lady. Women are not permitted in this club." And I explained that my name was Elizabeth Hanford, this is pre- Bob Dole days, my name was Elizabeth Hanford, I worked at the White House, and that I had a meeting on the 4th floor with some businessmen who had flown in for this meeting from Columbus, Ohio. "I'm sorry," the doorman said. "If your name was Queen Elizabeth, you're still not going in."

Well the meeting finally took place after I sent over another staffer, who may have been a man, but who had not, as I had, spent all weekend preparing for the meeting. During that same time period, I'd often look around at government meetings and realize I was the only woman in the room. All that has changed now. In short, I believe the biggest change I've witnessed from the time I began my career in the mid-sixties until today is the understanding that women are capable of playing the roles that are so important day to day in preserving our democracy. I'm often asked, of all the issues that crossed my desk over the years, which was the most challenging? Well, for me the answer to that question is clear, and it may surprise you. Today no one can imagine starting a car without fascinating the safety belt, or buying a new car without airbags. Well it wasn't always that way. Indeed in July 1984, safety belt usage was only 13 percent, not one state had passed a safety belt law requiring the use of the belts, and airbags were virtually nonexistent. In fact, I had to look all over Washington to find us one car with an airbag because the technology was still so new. And you know what I wanted to do with that car? I put it on the White House lawn, and then I got the president and the cabinet to go out and look at what a car with an airbag appeared like. What was it? They didn't know. No one had ever seen a car with an airbag. And also, consumers were reluctant. People who were buying cars thought, "Airbags? They'll go off when you cross the railroad tracks." And the automobile companies, the CEOs said, safety won't sell. I can still remember them in my office, safety won't sell. I said, you are wrong. You're going to find out. But I was presented with clear evidence that increasing safety belt usage and the presence of airbags in cars would save thousands upon thousands of lives, and I'm told millions of dollars. President Reagan and I agreed that it was high time to put an end to 20 years of arguing and debating these issues. It was time to move forward, save as many lives as possible as quickly as possible. The plan we devised was straightforward. We set a time limit, for two-thirds of America's population to be covered by mandatory state safety belt laws that met our strict federal criteria; that was part of the key. If that goal was not met, then automobile manufacturers would have to install passive restraints, airbags, in increasing percentages of new cars, reaching 100 percent within four years. The goal was to get both. There was a lot of opposition to our plan, from those who believed that the federal government did not have a role to play in automobile safety. I'm proud to report, however, that our plan was implemented, and it worked just as we had structured it. We got both. We got the safety belt laws, except for New Hampshire, and they still won't pass it. Every other state- and their motto is "Live free or die," well that's what they're going to do. Though we got our safety belts, and we got our airbags. Instead of 13 percent, national safety belt use today is 85 percent and climbing. Just as consumers wouldn't think of buying a new car without four tires, they also wouldn't think of buying a new car without driver and passenger-side airbags. As a result, there are many real-life instances where tragedies has been averted, and family members and friends have been spared the loss of a loved one in an auto accident. And also, you think about people who crash through that windshield when they don't have a safety belt on, and they end up as paraplegics. There's so many people who, not only have lost lives but who've been maimed before this took place. So I thank God that we had a chance to get both the airbags and to get state safety belt laws.

I'm also frequently asked which of the positions I've held during my public service career gave me the most joy. And which provided me with the most unforgettable memories. The answer to both of those questions is my eight years of service at the American Red Cross. Much of that joy and many of those moments came from serving alongside that army I mentioned, the 1.3 million volunteers. Volunteers like Ruth Easton of Baton, Illinois. When Ruth was in her 90's, she got on an airplane and she came to Washington to receive an award- just like we had awards here this morning. We wanted to honor Ruth—if you can believe this- for 80 years as a volunteer at the American Red Cross, but we had no 80 year pin; it only went as high as 70. So we had to make a new pin. But how inspirational. She had been working in our blood services program for 80 years. I'll never forget Ruth. I will never forget the inspiration that that provided. And by far the most unforgettable and wrenching moments of my Red Cross career were spent in foreign countries. There were the refugee camps of Goma Zaire, which is now Congo, where the Red Cross was assisting over 1 million Rwandan refugees. Remember when they fled from Rwanda? These people had fled their country literally overnight to avoid the ghastly civil war that was destroying their homeland, but they stopped at the worst possible place, on volcanic rock. And you couldn't dig for latrines, you couldn't dig for graves. And the cholera, the dysentery was rampant throughout that camp. And the bodies were piled along the roadside, to be carried off twice a day to mass graves. Still, for the refugees, fear of returning home was far greater than the fear of dying in a foreign land. I literally had to step over some of those dead bodies, and this experience was so traumatic that I was unable to talk about it with my board at the American Red Cross for a number of weeks.

My visit taking supplies to Somalia during the terrible famine in the 1990's also left cruel, vivid images that will haunt me the rest of my life. In Baidoa, Somalia, I came across a little boy lying under a gunnysack, and I thought he was dead. I pulled back that sack, and his brother who was sitting there sat him up, and this poor child was so malnourished there was no way he could eat the bowl of rice and beans that was there beside him. And so we got camel's milk for him, and as I put my arm around him to feed him the camel's milk, I could almost feel those little bones just breaking through his body. It seemed like they were just breaking through his body, he was so frail. So frail. And that's when the horror of starvation becomes real- when you can touch it. Ladies and gentlemen, the starvation in Somalia today, as I speak, is far worse. It's worse than I saw back in the 90's. It's the worst in 60 years. Former Senate Majority Leader, Dr. Bill Frist, my good friend, from Tennessee, was in Somalia just recently, and Bill has established a means to ensure the contributions directly reach the people in need. His organization's website is www.hopethroughhealinghands.org, and it's located right here in Nashville. He's doing tremendous work, as he has through his years in the senate, going over to operate, to help people in Africa. As I pray for so many who are hurting desperately around the world, I think about how fortunate we are to live in this great land. Not that we're immune from disasters, natural or man-made, as we've all seen recently, but all things considered, we are indeed very blessed are we. We're blessed to be a blessing. We've received that we might give. And certainly the greatest blessing that came my way during my time in Washington is my husband, Bob Dole- I promised I was coming back to him. Fortunately for me and for Kansas, his home state, and for America, Bob also found his life's mission in public service, and after nearly 36 years of marriage, he remains my best friend and my own personal Rock of Gibraltar. He's also served as a daily reminder that while the work that's performed in public service is serious indeed, it's also important not to take yourself too seriously, and to always remember to laugh. I'll never forget the day I appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee to be confirmed as secretary of transportation, and Bob Dole introduced me. Well, paraphrasing Nathan Hale, he said, "I regret that I have but one wife to give for my country's infrastructure." Now that part was fine, that was OK, so far so good. But then he suggested that perhaps the federal highway administration could use Elizabeth's biscuit recipe for filling potholes. Now we're sitting there in front of the Commerce Committee, and he's pulling these jokes. Well now, this is before airbags. Remember we had to do that once I got to DOT. And so, thank goodness the good Lord gave me a nice retort. I achieved some revenge there when I fired back that although airbag technology was just evolving, I already knew all about airbags. I'd been driving around with one for years. Well, Bob and I shared many laughs over the years, and we shared our commitment to public service. And now we both share a mission to ensure that the men and women who wore and who are currently wearing the uniform of our country never slip from the top of our government's priority list or from the thoughts and prayers of all Americans.

Just four days ago, we bowed in prayer remembering the victims of 9/11 and their families. But what occurred in the wake of that terrible tragedy 10 years ago was extraordinary and uplifting. When the rest of the world thought we were down and out, the quiet army of compassion rose up from the ashes, demonstrating to the world why America is the greatest country ever seen. Throughout my years at the Red Cross, I worked closely with emergency response and relief teams, and I came to understand the enormous bravery and dedication of these men and women, some professionals, even more of them volunteers. And in the aftermath of 9/11, the sacrifice of our troops has been overwhelming. More than 45,000 have been wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq. In small towns in the heartland and on the coast, communities are missing their stars, and families are forever changed. Local heroes have returned with the ravages of war apparent. Over 6,000 have not returned at all. During the past few years, Bob and I have had the privilege of meeting with many of our wounded warriors, both at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and in other places across America. The passion, patriotism and perseverance of this generation of hometown heroes underscore America's obligation to support those who sacrifice so much on our behalf.

Proper care and benefits for these young men and women must not be a line item in the federal budget, subject to debate or curtailment, and we must also bring military families to the forefront of the national consciousness. Their often silent sacrifice must be acknowledged and honored. These great caregivers. They've all paid a terrible and unimagined price because of 9/11 and our fight against terrorism. It's a privilege to work with my husband on issues that will help our hometown heroes and their families.

And I want to close with two little stories. The first comes from Luke 14, where Christ says, "Entertain those who cannot entertain you." I was reading that one day, and I thought, now what does this mean? And then I thought, you know, Bob Dole's birthday is coming up, maybe we'll have a reverse birthday. We'll entertain those who couldn't entertain us. In other words, we'll have a whole group of people invited- and we began to do this, to give the gifts to them, to have the birthday cake, and have a celebration. We worked with Sarah's Circle, for inner-city elderly people in Washington, poor people, and some other groups to do this. Well this last July 22, when Bob turned 88 years old, we decided to invite wounded warriors and their families to our home for dinner. Now, I didn't realize we were going to end up with 100 people, and it was the hottest day—the very hottest day- in many, many years in Washington, so we quickly put up an air conditioned tent and here they came. There were some who were double amputees, others who'd lost an arm, one woman said her face had been smashed by an IED when she was driving in Afghanistan. And they had done the plastic surgery, but she said, I still need help, I need eye therapy because I have double vision still. And as they had dinner with us, and we visited with the families—some brought children- they began to tell their stories; I think Bob was encouraging that. And it was incredible because I think it gave them a sense of relief to be able to just share with others what they were going through, and to talk about it, to have some opportunity to relate to others and to people who cared very much for them.

And there's one other story that I want to close with because it involves President Reagan, and this is the 100th anniversary- he would have been 100 years old on Feb. 6 of this year. And as you all know, there have been events all year honoring President Reagan. At one time, he and I were in a room together, alone. Now often there are a lot of other people around you, but this time it was just the two of us, and we were waiting for him to be announced to go to the podium and make a speech, so we were in a holding room. And I couldn't resist. I said, Mr. President, you are incredible. You are always so gracious, so kind, so thoughtful. You never appear frustrated or in any way flustered. And yet you've got the weight of the world on your shoulders. How do you do it? And he loved to reminisce. And he leaned back in his chair, and he said, well Elizabeth, when I was governor of California, it seemed like every day yet another disaster would be placed on my desk. And I had the urge to hand it to someone behind me to help me. And he said one day I realized I was looking in the wrong direction. I looked up instead of back. And I'm still looking up. I couldn't go another day in this office if I didn't know that I could ask God's help and it would be given.

My friends, as long as the leaders and citizens of our great country continue to look up for help, I'm confident that America's best days are truly yet to come. God bless each and every one of you, and God bless this great land of the free, America. Thank you very, very much.