Lowell Weicker Remembered by Chris Dodd

Chris Dodd

August 1, 2023
Senators Weicker and Dodd with President Reagan.

Claudia, Scot, Gray, and the extended Weicker Family, Governor Lamont and all who are joining us today to say thank you to a gifted and dedicated public servant.

Claudia, before sharing a few brief remarks, not that it is easy for a former senator, including my colleague and friend, Lowell, to ever be brief, even though we prefer brevity when others are speaking, I want to tell you and the Weicker Family how honored I am that you asked me to participate in this tribute.

I want to express my appreciation to several Weicker staff who reminded me of their memories of being part of the Weicker family, including Tom Dudchik and Peter Canning.

While we knew each other for over half a century, Lowell and I served together in the Congress for 14 years, eight as Connecticut’s Senators. As the senior senator, Lowell went out of his way to be supportive, helpful, and show me the obscure traditions of the Sen- ate when I arrived. We had a wonderful, positive relationship, both professional and personal over the years. We remained close after we both had left the Senate, and my wife Jackie and I have enjoyed that friendship with both Lowell and Claudia.

We always reached across the aisle and worked together for the betterment of Connecticut and the country. We didn’t always agree, but Lowell never once took a cheap shot. We both believed we had an obligation to keep our state’s best interests at heart. The U.S. Senate in those days was nothing like it is today, and in my view, as a country we are worse for it.

Lowell Weicker was a hard person to ignore. Yet, few of us when we first encountered him on Connecticut’s political scene could have foreseen the trajectory of his career, his evolution, his maturation into the United States Senator and later Governor who would use the power of his offices to continually do what was right for the people of our state and the country, above his own self-interest.

As all gathered here today re- member, Lowell Weicker would come to national prominence during his first term in the Senate through his role on the Watergate committee investigating the abuses of our free-election system. It was quickly apparent to all he wasn’t there to protect his party’s President or his party in the face of emerging facts. Lowell Weicker made sure a lantern was held up in the darkness.

People noticed. Many remember Lowell’s stir- ring moment when he scolded the White House, declaring that our fellow Americans are not “enemies to be harassed” but people “to be loved and won.” A statement as meaningful today as it was then.

Few, except his family and staff, remember the severe criticism Lowell took in the early days of the Watergate investigation. Connecticut had strongly backed Richard Nixon in the 1972 election. Few believe or wanted to believe that the President of the U.S. could be involved with any wrongdoing.

Lowell made another speech, to an audience of one, words that foretold the type of Senator he was becoming.

Hank Harper, Lowell’s former Yale roommate and longtime aide, has recounted to many of you the story of driving Lowell back to Greenwich after a long day of stops across the state, including an event in Griswold. In the darkness on the long silent drive back to Greenwich, Low- ell, according to Hank, finally spoke up. “I don’t care if everyone thinks what I am doing is wrong,” he said. “When I go to meet my maker, I want to be able to say what I did was right.”

And as all of you remember, the truth vindicated Lowell. Watergate made the freshman Republican senator from Connecticut a nation- al reputation as a maverick.

Lowell enjoyed the “maverick” label, but his public life was so much more than Watergate.

In 1981, when I first arrived in the Senate, the Republicans had just taken control of the upper chamber and Ronald Regan was proposing deep cuts in the country’s budget for education and health care. Lowell in his role as the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Education and Health Care, said no and fought back. While an- other Senator might have been steamrolled by his party or one of his senior colleagues, Lowell won the vote and more importantly, he won billions in concessions and preserved our society’s safety net, and impacted the lives of millions.

Those of us gathered here today need no reminding of Lowell’s individual contributions to improving the lives of so many others …The remaining eighteen years of his public life were never about burnishing his reputation but about making a difference in the lives of those left behind.

Lowell never hesitated to be the first, or one of the first, in the Senate to step in and push back. He did the same when some extremist colleagues tried to impose their own brand of morality and social agenda on the rest of the country. I recall vividly Lowell taking the Senate floor and leading a successful filibuster to defend the Constitution and the rights of women and minorities on the issues of abortion, school prayer, and busing.

When Lowell heard there was growing political opposition to funding an experimental drug, AZT, that had the potential to save lives of people infected with AIDS, he took the issue to the Senate floor. Many of you will remember this was at a time when there was great controversy and fear over AIDS, which was widely seen as a disease of gay men and people who used drugs. Lowell won $46 million in funding for clinical trials of AZT, trials that led to more discoveries that changed AIDS from a near certain killer, to a manageable chronic disease, sparing countless lives. Anthony Fauci at the time hailed Lowell’s political courage in the AIDS funding fight, and called him a man ahead of his time.

There was no bigger champion of the National Institutes of Health, believing investment in basic science research had the ability not only to make the world a better place for our children but was a way America could help the rest of the world battle emerging diseases and improve the health of all citizens. “Planting the seeds to fight tomorrow’s headlines may not make for popularity contests today, but that makes it no less necessary,” he said.

With an eye to the future, Low- ell fought for funding to preserve our oceans and conduct coastal research and fight climate change. He fought for clean air and water and established a national estuary program to begin cleanup of Long Island Sound, just one of many examples he won to help our State of Connecticut. In fact, the list of projects he won for Connecticut was monumental.

Perhaps Lowell’s greatest legislative achievement was the Americans with Disabilities Act, prohibiting discrimination of those with disabilities, and making us a more inclusive society, based on equality, love and respect for all our citizens. Lowell didn’t accomplish this alone, Senators Hatch, Kennedy, Harkin and others joined this battle. Lowell may have been a maverick, but he also understood to make great change, you cannot act alone. He formed great coalitions with colleagues across all ideological lines.

Lowell’s sense of justice was not confined to our borders. He was one of an early handful to speak out against apartheid and abuse of human rights in South Africa, even getting arrested at a peaceful demonstration at the South African embassy. After Nelson Mandela was released from prison and apartheid was abolished, Nelson Mandela was elected as President of South Africa, Lowell was invited by Nelson Mandela to attend his inauguration in grateful thanks and honor for his early support.

My remarks on this day are not intended to be an historical chronology of his years in theU.S. Senate, but rather to share with you, particularly the young- er people, how Lowell Weicker came to understand the unique power of one United States Senator, and how that power should be exercised, not for the promotion of your reputation, but for the betterment of people. A senator could stand in their place. A senator could hear their voice. A senator could act.

Lowell fundamentally believed that the values that he championed were not his alone, but the values of the people of Connecticut.

Speaking of our state, Lowell was once challenged in a debate to declare which party he belonged to. He gave a great answer. “It is the great mix of this state,” he said, “which exists in a U.S. Senator, and it’s a power to be executed on its behalf. Not on behalf of your political party. Not on behalf of conservatism, but on behalf of the people of this state. That is my party – Connecticut!”

His strong will could put him ahead of the debate. Republican Senator Javits of New York, whom Lowell emulated, once said, “No one understands better what a cold place the floor of the Senate can be when you stand alone than Lowell Weicker.”

Lowell didn’t come to the U.S. Senate in 1971 as a man known for courage. After 22 years of service to the state as Senator and Governor, Lowell’s courage was unquestioned. Lowell was awarded the Wayne Morse Political Integrity Award for a career of “exercising an independence of judgment on the evidence of the issues.”

When he became the third recipient of the JFK Library Profiles in Courage Award, Senator Ted Kennedy said: “Perhaps no public figure of our time has been so vilified for a stand on principle as Governor Lowell Weicker.”

Lowell loved the hymn “Once to Every Man and Nation.” It was a hymn that he lived by, one that described him well.

Once to every man and Nation Comes the moment to decide…

Then it is that the brave man chooses

While the coward stands aside,

Till the multitude make virtue

Of the faith they had denied.

Lowell Weicker was a patriot. He loved his family. He loved Connecticut and he loved his country. He was a true patriot.

I was proud to serve with him in the United States Senate and call him friend.

Chris Dodd was elected to the United States Senate in 1980 to replace retiring Senator and former Connecticut Governor Abe Ribicoff. He was a principal author of numerous bills that became law, including the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. After leaving government service in 2011, Dodd was Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association ofAmerica.

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