Former Kansas senator and Republican presidential candidate Robert Joseph Dole passed away early Sunday morning at the age of 98.
According to a statement released by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, the World War II veteran and longtime politician passed in his sleep.
“It is with heavy hearts we announce that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep. At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years. More information coming soon,” the Foundation shared in a tweet.
It is with heavy hearts we announce that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep. At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years. More information coming soon. #RememberingBobDole pic.twitter.com/57NtGfqtmL
— Elizabeth Dole Foundation (@DoleFoundation) December 5, 2021
Dole served as top Republican in the Senate for some 11 years — a feat beaten only by current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — and is one of only eight senators in history to have received a Congressional Gold Medal.
His response, when he received the honor in January of 2018, was simple and self-deprecating: “I want to thank all those who’ve said such kind words about me. They’re probably not true, but they were nice.”
He was former President Gerald Ford’s 1976 running mate, and at 73 he became the oldest to ever make a first-time run for the presidency, clinching the Republican nomination in 1996 but losing to Bill Clinton.
Dole had been in poor health for several years – and had confirmed in February of this year that he was suffering from stage 4 lung cancer — but had continued to make an effort to serve others and honor his friends as colleagues.
Even into his 90s, he visited the World War II Memorial on the National Mall and greeted fellow veterans who came to see the memorial as part of the nation’s Honor Flight program, which helps veterans of past wars obtain free flights to the nation’s capitol to visit their memorials.
As The Washington Post reported in June of 2018, he saw that as his final mission:
There, from a handicapped parking spot, he eases into the wheelchair as the greetings begin — “Oh my gosh, Bob Dole!”— finally rolling into his place in the shade just outside the main entrance to the National World War II Memorial.
And then they come, bus after bus, wheelchair after wheelchair, battalions of his bent brothers, stooped with years but steeped in pride, veterans coming to see their country’s monument to their sacrifice and to be welcomed by of one of their country’s icons.
“Good to see you. Where you from?” Dole says, over and over, as they roll close, sometimes one on each side. New York, Tennessee, Nevada, the old roll-call once again. “Let’s get a picture.” “Thank you for your service.” “What about your service?” “How old are you?” “I’m 90.” “I’m 94.” “Where you from?” “Good to see you.”
And when former President and fellow World War II veteran George H.W. Bush passed away, Dole not only attended the public visitation but asked to be helped to his feet so that he could salute his fallen friend.
Bob Dole was the type of man who at 96, unable to walk and struggling badly with his health, wanted to be held up so he could salute the casket of a fellow WWII veteran and former president pic.twitter.com/udvVDSYg17
— Sunny McSunnyface (@sunnyright) December 5, 2021
RIP, Robert Joseph Dole.