The Passing of a Senator

bennettSenator Bob Bennett, a three-term Republican senator from Utah, passed away Wednesday evening. I never met him, and never particularly cared for his political views. But my wish to bow my head, offer condolences to his family, and wish his soul godspeed at this time isn’t simply a consequence of the vague imperative we all so often feel to speak well of the departed. The plain fact of the matter is that Bob Bennett in so many ways very clearly embodied the classic ideal of a “senator” (the original meaning of which being, quite simply, “wise old man”), and that is a thing worth high praise.

Bennett had already had a long career in business and government when the opportunity came for him to run for an open U.S. Senate seat and return to Washington D.C., where he’d already spent much of his life, in 1992. (Full disclosure: I volunteered for Wayne Owens, his Democratic opponent, during that campaign.) His election to the Senate, at a time when most others would be thinking about retirement, fit him perfectly. With his quietly authoritative demeanor (being 6′ 6″ and thin didn’t hurt), his folksy yet precise speaking voice, his carefully formulated public pronouncements and statements, his political reserve even while in debate and argument, and most of all the immense respect he always expressed for the institution of the Senate–a place that, believe it or not kids, some people used to actually non-ironically describe as the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body”–his election to the Senate (and his re-election in 1998 and 2004) seemed to be exactly what a man like Bob Bennett was destined for. I’m a political junkie, and like most political junkies, it’s hard for me not to categorize professional politicians as particular types. Bennett’s type was Old-School Senator, in every way: he believed in the institution, and that belief shaped his own career through it. As he himself summarized so well here:

It is, perhaps, depressingly appropriate that Senator Bennett, who lost his seat to a lesser man powered by what I called at the time a “context-free, tantrum-prone, angry confidence in individualism,” should pass away on a day when the leadership of his own party accepted a contemptuous, petulant, ignorant blowhard as their presidential candidate. It’s a sad day, a feeling that ought to be experienced by everyone who believes self-government ought to be ennobling, rather than degrading. So let us, instead, remember a man who embodied the former, and whose example calls us to do the same.

After this it was noised abroad that Mr. Valiant-for-truth was taken with a summons by the same post as the other, and had this for a token that the summons was true, “That his pitcher was broken at the fountain.” When he understood it, he called for his friends, and told them of it. Then said he, I am going to my Father’s; and though with great difficulty I have got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who will now be my rewarder. When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the river-side, into which as he went, he said, “Death, where is thy sting?” And as he went down deeper, he said, “Grave, where is thy victory?” So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.

John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, Part II, Ch. XIII

Senator Bob Bennett, 1933-2016, Requiescat in pace.


  1. Eric Facer says:

    Bob has been fixture in our ward (Arlington Second Ward and, previously, when it was just the Arlington Ward) for many years. A kind man, a strong leader and a fine Gospel Doctrine instructor. He will be sorely missed.

    For those in the D.C. Area who are interested in attending the services, the funeral will take place at the McLean Stake Center on Tuesday, May 10 at 11:00 am. And there will be a viewing the night before (Monday the 9th) at the same location from 6-8 pm.

  2. Mark Harrison says:

    I tried never to miss an opportunity to hear Bob teach. I always came away better for having heard him.

  3. Mary Bradford says:

    Bob was my dear friend ever since college days—counselor in my husband’s bishopric in VA, supporter of my career, I have always loved I’m and Joyce!

  4. Thanks for this. Bob Bennett (full disclosure — my uncle) was a good man, whose home was always open to anyone, and who respected all different points of view, while holding strongly to his own personal political and religious convictions. We don’t see many like him in politics these days, Republican or Democrat. It’s wonderful for me to see how many other people recognized that in him.

  5. Mark B. says:

    it’s nice that you could come up with an old quotation about Senator Lee rather than having to come up with a current off-the-cuff biased assessment of him today.

  6. el oso says:

    You bring up Senator Lee and your distaste for his rhetoric from 6 years ago. But,,,, imagine who might be trying to win that seat now with Trump just confirmed as the unopposed nominee for president. An even more outspoken conservative might be winning the nomination.

    I still remember well the close up TV shots of him during his 1992 campaign. Very direct and memorable. A little out-of-character for him given how he served in the senate afterwards. Overall, he was probably one of those whom the framers of the constitution had in mind when the Senate was first organized.

  7. Mike Harris says:

    I believe it was Memorial Day 2003. Orem City invited Senator Bennett to speak at a special ceremony to pay tribute to war veterans with a new memorial. His words changed me. He paid a tender and sincere tribute to all veterans but especially to those who fought in Vietnam. As I watched my dad stand with the other Vietnam vets and as I listened to Senator Bennett honor my father’s sacrifice, for the first time I had to hold back tears. I had to hold them back…any son of a war veteran knows what I’m talking about. Like most, my dad hardly spoke about the war. I was naive until the Senator’s words quickened my soul and began to enlighten my understanding.
    Dad passed away over 10 years ago. However, the bond and appreciation I felt for my father on that Memorial Day continues to grow as my reunion with him nears. I never thanked Senator Bennett for his service to me that day or his lifetime of service before and since, but my dad has and I will. For now, my thanks is with my tears and this inadequate but sincere post. Yes, tears. Any son of a war veteran knows what I’m talking about– there are tears and we can let them flow now.

  8. I don’t have any connection with Senator Bennett, but today I helped a group of women from my ward clean our church building for his funeral tomorrow since his ward’s building can’t accommodate it. Early morning seminary is cancelled tomorrow because of security sweeps (there was much rejoicing in my house), someone gets to figure out how to dismantle the high council room table, and people are in and out of the building all day long setting up audio and visual feeds, arranging chairs, bringing in flowers, and so much more.

    I was a little surprised to hear the funeral was going to be in our regular church building because of security and logistics, but one thing I love about being a Mormon is having the chance to serve others, especially people we don’t know, in small ways that add up to meaningful service so I’m glad Senator Bennett’s funeral allowed us to do that.

  9. Mike, amen.

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