Former Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican foreign policy leader, died Sunday. He was 87.
Lugar’s career focused on foreign policy and national security issues, including efforts to secure and dismantle nuclear arsenals of former Soviet states following the Cold War.
Nuclear nonproliferation was Lugar’s signature issue. He teamed in 1991 with Democrat Sam Nunn of Georgia to create a program to help countries of the former Soviet Union secure and dispose of weapons of mass destruction. Under the Nunn-Lugar program, 13,300 warheads have been deactivated. Starting in 2004, the program extended its reach beyond the former Soviet Union, helping destroy chemical weapons in Albania. Thanks in large part to that landmark legislation, the Indiana Republican was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000.
Lugar served 36 years in the U.S. Senate including decades on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which he twice led as chairman. He helped to shepherd arms reduction efforts with presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Lugar signaled his independence in his early years in the Senate, pushing for faster moves toward democracy in South Africa and the Philippines in the 1980s, putting him at odds with President Ronald Reagan.
Lugar made an unsuccessful run for president in 1996, but his slogan of “nuclear security and fiscal sanity” struggled to gain traction, support and name recognition nationally.
But in Indiana, name recognition was not a problem. More than three decades on Capitol Hill made him the state’s longest serving senator.
He first ran for office in 1963, winning a school board seat. He was elected mayor of Indianapolis in 1968 and went on to merge the city and surrounding Marion County into a single governmental unit. In 1974, a Watergate-dominated year, while running for the Senate with a reputation as “Richard Nixon’s favorite mayor,” Lugar came within a respectable 75,000 votes of Democratic incumbent Birch Bayh. In 1976, he handily defeated Democratic incumbent Vance Hartke. In 2006, he was the only senator granted a free ride to re-election, facing token opposition.
Lugar was born April 4, 1932 in Indianapolis. Lugar was sick often as a child, plagued by allergies and ear infections. He passed the time reading biographies and publishing a family newspaper on a toy printing press. He learned piano and cello at his mother’s urging, and showed a flair for improvisation and composition. He was first in his class in high school and at Denison University, where he was student body co-president with his wife-to-be, Charlene Smeltzer. He later attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and served as a naval intelligence officer.
Lugar died at the Inova Fairfax Heart and Vascular Institute in Virginia from complications related to chronic inflammatory demylinating polyneuropathy, or CIPD, a rare neurological disorder, the Lugar Center in Washington said in a statement announcing his death. The statement said his wife, four sons, and their families were with him “throughout his short illness at the hospital.”
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