Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony of the Congressional Gold Medal Honoring Hubert H. Humphrey

September 11, 1984

The President. Ladies and gentlemen, honored guests, and most especially, Muriel Humphrey Brown, we're here to honor one of American political history's great happy warriors.

Hubert Horatio Humphrey was the mayor of a great midwestern city. He was a United States Senator for 23 years. He was majority whip for his party in the Senate. He was Vice President of the United States. He ran for President three times and won the nomination of his party in 1968, when he came within a few hundred thousand votes of the Presidency.

Now, these are the facts of his career, but somehow they don't quite capture him. To get a surer sense of his real dimensions one must speak of his nature, his character, his personality.

There was in Hubert Humphrey a great joy of life and a truly buoyant civility. He was robust and energetic. He loved the battle. He was warm and affectionate. He was hearty and spirited. And he was nothing if not effusive. When he spoke, the words poured out of him. Some said he was deeply, endlessly articulate, and then there were others that said he was downright garrulous. [Laughter] But either way, he'd laugh when someone said he'd never had an unuttered thought. [Laughter]

He was a masterful politician. Issues were everything to him, mere strategy a bore. He was no bully; his art was persuasion. He asked that he be remembered as ``an effective man of government,'' and he was certainly that. He lived in clamorous times, but he was ever optimistic. He was involved in all the great struggles of his time, and he tried to affect them, always for the better.

In 1948 he touched the conscience of his party when he took the floor of the Democratic Convention to make a passionate appeal for civil rights. In the sixties, he was deeply involved in the struggle that followed the U.S. commitment to Vietnam.

He was a liberal who was an internationalist, a liberal who understood that America was great and has serious responsibilities in the world, a liberal who was strongly anti-Communist. He loved justice. He believed our Constitution is a living document that is reborn every day. He was a passionate democrat -- small ``d'' and big ``D'' -- who tried to make the world better according to his lights. And no one was better than he at infusing his followers with a fighting spirit.

Hubert Humphrey was generous. After John Kennedy beat him in the Democratic primaries of 1960, he dropped out of the race and went to work to elect Kennedy President. It wasn't pro forma, the campaigning that he did for Kennedy, it was real. And when J.F.K. won the White House, Majority Whip Humphrey mobilized his constituencies, mustered his majorities, and helped J.F.K. get the Congress to pass such legislation as the Peace Corps.

He may have been generous to a fault. He was famously patient with human frailty, and it was said that you could hurt him with impunity. Once, an old friend betrayed him and it damaged Humphrey politically. Another friend, a fellow Senator, took him aside and said, ``Hubert, I know you're not going to be rough with so-and-so after he did what he did to you, but couldn't you at least be mad at him for 2 weeks?'' [Laughter] Humphrey probably laughed and shook his head and refused. It isn't possible to exaggerate the number of people who considered him their friend.

Thirty years after his great career began, 30 years after he was elected the youngest mayor ever of Minneapolis, Hubert Humphrey was told that he was dying. He fought his sickness with the same spirit with which he'd lived his life. A week after his last operation, Humphrey showed up at an AFL - CIO convention to give a long-promised speech. He was thin and wan and his hair had gone white. He began his speech, ``I may start out a little wobbly, but I'm going to end up damn strong.'' He spoke for almost an hour, and he pounded the lectern so hard it jumped.

In the last few weeks of his life, as he lay dying, an amazing healing process began. He got a WATS line, and he called his old friends and his old adversaries and one after one he told them, ``I wish you well.'' And the calls came in, too, from all across the country. Old opponents called in, and young people just entering politics. Powerful political figures called, and obscure farmers. It was as if all of them were trying to reconnect with a part of an unchanging political past, trying to touch for the last time a special spirit and a special style that would go with Hubert Humphrey's passing. It's said that a lot of love passed along the lines those last few days. There was a lot of forgiving and a lot of encouraging and a lot of sharing of wisdom.

His passing left Washington a lesser place. He left a big silence behind him. He was a fine man, a patriot. And he understood that though good men and women can disagree on this issue or that, we must always stay bound by a common love of country.

Hubert Humphrey was a robust and active player in the dramas of our time for more than 30 years. He was a vivid presence on the scene. And looking back over his career, it's fair to say that his greatest contribution to his country was his life, a life that affirmed the vitality of democracy, affirmed the fact that the democratic process is alive and full of movement and action and great plans and decent dreams.

I'm very proud today and very honored to present to Mrs. Muriel Humphrey Brown the Congressional Gold Medal for distinguished service to the Federal Government and the American people in honor of the great, happy warrior: Hubert Horatio Humphrey.

Mrs. Brown. Thank you, Mr. President, so very, very much, not only for presenting the medal but that most beautiful message and summation of Hubert's goals and life.

When we -- children and wife and friends -- planned Hubert's funeral, it was not a funeral ceremony that we planned. It was a celebration of his life. And I find that today, with this great tribute, this is a continuation of that celebration of that man's life. He was one man who made a great change in the life of our country. Thank you again, so very much.

Now I'm to introduce the continuation of the Humphrey family in my son, Hubert Humphrey, Jr. ``Skip'' Humphrey.

Mr. Humphrey. Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, honored guests: On behalf of my mother, my sister, and my brothers, and all of the members of our family, we gratefully accept the medal honoring Hubert Humphrey.

I know if he were here today, he would suggest that all this fuss over his public life is just too much and not necessary. But privately, he would have thoroughly enjoyed the limelight and attention being given to him today. [Laughter]

I remember well the notes and letters I received from Dad telling me of the visits with the President and with other dignitaries. He wanted to share with his family the infatuation, the love he had for his country, its political institutions and its people.

We accept this medal for the people that Hubert Humphrey represented -- the people who live in Minnesota, the people from all walks of life, in all circumstances of need. And we accept this medal as a challenge to keep Hubert Humphrey's faith with the people and the land of America.

Thank you for honoring the courage, hard work, faith, and integrity of a man we deeply love.

As always, I would say it's the words of Hubert Humphrey that best express how he felt about life and politics in America. So, let me just close with a quote. He said: ``I have enjoyed my life, its disappointments outweighed by its pleasures. I have loved my country in a way that some people consider sentimental and out of style. I still do. And I remain an optimist with joy, without apology about this country and about the American experiment in democracy.''

Note: The President spoke at 10:46 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.