By Hannah Fruehauf, CNN • Updated 4th December 2017
In his final formal appearance, Bob Dole made a striking comparison between heaven and his own last place of rest: a plain old cemetery in Blair County, Pennsylvania.
Dole, 94, was sworn in as US senator in 1964 after serving four years as US Army general in the World War II Korean War.
At his funeral on Saturday, Dole reflected on his role as a soldier and former senator and offered up a wry joke.
In a speech that touched on the common themes of civility and humility that mark Dole’s public persona, the man who famously performed the honours at the funeral of President Ronald Reagan joked about his burial site.
“Curious to learn if Heaven looks like Kansas,” Dole joked about his plot.
Greeted at the lectern by his son John — a US senator from Kansas who delivered the eulogy at the private service — Dole began with a pep talk for the remainder of his time with us.
“Listen, I’m going to close,” he said. “Everyone who’s come up to me during the day or in passing, they’ve been so kind. And they’ve all told me thank you for the strong work ethic, the faith in yourself, in God, that you have with everybody you know.
“It’s been a great life, thank you,” he added.
Dole spoke of his admiration for fellow senators and his hopes for American leadership in the next century. And he reached out to others — including celebrities from Chris Rock to Joe Biden — to share stories about how he has lived an exemplary life.
His son offered up an anecdote about his dad’s efforts to help Kansans through devastating disease and death.
But Dole’s valedictory was not without poignancy, as he paused to imagine a slow, unending life of suffering and pain.
He recalled the once elderly man who was walking down the aisle of a church and then collapsed in the aisle, attended by dozens of people. Dole’s heroism emerged again, he said.
“The ladies and gentlemen then came up and all did all they could to help him and he held on and he held on and he held on and finally the air was out of his lungs. He was probably going to go down anyway.”
Dole said he has seen a lot of medical miracles during his nearly seven decades. But there was one in particular that he wanted to share: “I believe it was Jesus who helped me, and I know that’s probably the biggest miracle of all,” he said.
Dole’s family praised him as a patriot, and his grandson, William Dole III, read a letter from the current US commander-in-chief.
“In the years we have worked together, you have become my friend and I am proud to call you my colleague. You are an American hero and you are something even more: An American patriot,” wrote President Donald Trump.
Two US service members, one of whom was at the Reagan funeral, gave a recorded tribute.
Among the hundreds of mourners was Donald Trump Jr., who said he’d cried more than once during Dole’s funeral.
His eyes appeared to well up as he and his wife, Vanessa, bowed their heads and embraced Dole’s wife of 69 years, Elizabeth.
Trump, whose career in real estate has seen its share of drama, even leading to a threat of blackmail, echoed Dole’s assessment of life after death.
“What is most important is to remember that everything that goes on when you’re alive is just a blip,” Trump Jr. said. “It’s like this because you never know when you’ll be taken away from this Earth and be forgotten, and all that’s going on now is just a little blip on the screen.”