Despite all the available metrics available for us to make sense of our world, measuring it is still largely defined by the parameters set forth by humans.
Everyone knows Mount Everest is the tallest mountain at just over 29,000 feet above mean sea level. Calculating the distance from base to peak gives the edge to Hawaii’s Mauna Kea at 33,484 feet, with just less than 14,000 of those above sea level. If you move the starting point to Earth’s center and look for the highest point closest to the stars, you’ll land on the top of Ecuador’s Mount Chimborazo because of its proximity to the equator where the Earth’s rotation makes the crust thicker.
Measuring the physical attributes around us is tricky enough given the ability to produce vastly different outcomes based on where an observer chooses to begin. Still the measurements of physical attributes are objective. When it comes to measuring the lives of others, we have to resort to subjective opinions.
On occasion, however, a person’s accomplishments are so impartially good and decent that society’s instincts and emotions combine into tautological proof. They are mountains in their own right.
Bob Dole was a mountain of a man, and his contribution to Kansas and America are immense and immeasurable. After more than a week of reflection and mourning the loss of such a man, it’s quite possible if any metric did exist to quantify the admiration and devotion he inspired, Dole would set records.
There are so many inflection points from which to choose to begin measuring. His birth in Russell; the Dust Bowl years of his youth; war wounds suffered on an Italian mountain. You can’t pick just one, they’re all part of the fabric that made up who Dole became.
If pressed, however, I’d consider the barrage of enemy fire to be the most consequential for Kansas and the nation. Dole was studying to become a doctor when he enlisted and went off to war. The bullets that tore into his body didn’t just take his right arm, it likely robbed central Kansas of one of its finest physicians.
Dole’s arduous three-year recovery also likely factored into his willingness to accept incremental progress, knowing that small changes add up over the course of time. This also meant largely avoiding the legislative spotlight, for as one of his many obituaries mentions, Dole’s record has “no signature bill.” Instead, he was content to leave fingerprints on decades of budget, tax and foreign policy discussions.
Though I knew some of the broad strokes about most of the events mentioned above prior to his death earlier this month, I never knew just how much support he garnered outside of Kansas. I was a freshman in high school when his political career ended just short of the presidency. I knew him better as a pharmaceutical pitchman than a legislative powerbroker, though it was the latter that eventually made the biggest impression on me.
I met Dole exactly once, during his “farewell” tour in 2014. He wasn’t running for anything, and he didn’t have anything to offer other than some conversation and his wit. Yet is presence alone was enough to draw a crowd on a sunny weekday afternoon in May. Some came just to say hello. For some, it was a chance to say goodbye. Still others just wanted to be in the presence of greatness again.
Every one of us was better for the experience, even if we couldn’t quantify that at the time.