Max Baucus, the longtime U.S. senator from Montana, resigned last month to become President Obama’s new ambassador to China. But before he said his last goodbye to the chamber, Baucus delivered a farewell address that lavished praise on, among others, Rhode Island’s own John Chafee:
It was my honor to have friendships that formed the basis for solving some of the nation’s most difficult problems.
I’ll never forget working together with the late-Senator John Chafee on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
I worked with him for years before finding out he was an amazing war hero, decorated for his service in the Korean War.
Few people knew this about his war record because he didn’t brag about it or use it for political points.
He served because he believed in it, not because he thought he’d get credit for it.
Without a doubt, we need more John Chafees in the world.
Between 1989 and 1990, we sat together in a small room just off the Senate floor, facing wave after wave of unhappy senators – sometimes until one or two in the morning.
He was the ranking Republican member of the EPW committee, and I had become the chairman of the Environmental Protection subcommittee.
Together, we met with our colleagues, ironing out compromises on acid rain, ozone depletion, air quality permits, and scores of other issues.
Senator Chafee later became Chairman of the EPW Committee.
We had our disagreements, but by and large, under Senator Chafee’s chairmanship I recall an oasis of civility.
That friendship helped us pass the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.
It’s a small point – but I always respected that he never raised his voice.
John never lost his temper. He listened carefully to the other person’s point of view. He was the paragon of a senator. •
(1999 file photo: Khue Bui/AP)