For all the great things my father did — creating the Peace Corps; running the War on Poverty, including Head Start and other programs; helping my mother grow the Special Olympics; fighting in World War II and being wounded in battle; working for interracial justice — I was most amazed that he rarely spoke about the past and instead focused on the moment and on the person he was with.
Whether you were the President of the United States, a Senator or a taxicab driver, he always focused on you and what you were doing and thinking. When he died, I was taken aback by the people who waited in line at the wake, including two waitresses from his favorite restaurant and the guy who worked at the airport ticket counter. They waited for 45 minutes in the cold just to tell my family that Dad was a good man.
My father got thumped in his two races for national office, but his message and his character still struck a chord in people. After losing in 1972, he said to George McGovern, "We lost 49 states, but we never lost our souls." He tried to do what was right, not what was politically expedient. He wasn't the best politician, but he was a good man, which is more important and harder to achieve.