Looking Back On The Portrait Unveiling

Norman Shumway was smart. Peering over the open chest cavity — a flabby and worthless heart just lifted out and my mentor knowingly guiding my then novice hands as we sewed in a healthy heart — he would say: “Remember … whatever you’re doing at a moment’s time, you never own it.  You are… always… just renting.”

Thank you, Mr. President, for your generous remarks, and for taking time to be with the Frist family and so many of your loyal admirers and friends.  Your dad and mother, my parents, Laura and Karyn, my siblings and yours – I feel a certain interlocking kinship in our families.

(((And Mr. President, someday there might be a baby George Bush Frist.  You see … – if you hadn’t run for re-election, my son Harrison and then unknown to him, Houston-born Ashley Huff would never have met, both volunteering to work on your campaign.  Married 6 years later, we all thank you for bringing them together.)))

Mr. President, we all admire the grace you display in your post-presidential years. I see it personally while on the ground in Haiti where you, working with President Clinton, are bringing jobs and a future to thousands of Haitians since the earthquake. You demonstrate you don’t have to live in Washington to continue to make extraordinary contributions.

To my colleagues Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, the leadership era that this portrait represents was shaped by the two of you more than any other of our colleagues.

To Harry — you are our Leader, our boxer and fighter. As leaders of our parties, our points of views at times diverged, but you were always – always — forthright with me each and every step of the way.  Your convictions stand tall.

To Mitch, we essentially lived together each day in the Senate — the bond, the absolute trust, the agonizing hours of decision-making in the Majority Leader’s office.   You were born to continue the tradition of the Senate stalwart, your fellow Kentuckian Henry Clay.

And to all my other Senate colleagues – past and present — may your presence here today be a moment of repose and reflection.  Your dedicated work is the pulse of our democracy.  Your commitment and too often lonely hours away from family and friends provide the melody that makes America stronger and more robust.

And to have Dr. Ogilvie and Doris with us today is a special treat.  Each and every day the nation’s business would not commence until we absorbed the guiding wisdom shared through that strong, resonating Scottish voice.

Lloyd, your presence here today reminds us all that Senate relationships continue after formal service.    Imagine, long after we both left the Senate, a gloriously yellow-orange sun rising at daybreak over the ocean, with Karyn and me standing on the beach our feet in crashing waves — witnessing Dr. Ogilvie baptizing our adult nephew.
Senate relationships are organic. They live forever.

And to those closest to me …To Karyn and Bryan and Jonathan and Harrison, we began this journey as a family in 1993. Karyn, you never asked to go on that trip but once begun, you never looked back and your faith never wavered.
Growing up with a dad in politics of course isn’t easy, but Harrison, Jonathan and Bryan you have given your parents the greatest gift of all — by growing and maturing during our Washington years into thriving, grown men, living lives of value and service.

To my 4 older siblings — Dottie, Mary, Bobby and Tommy – all of whom are here today.  I, like you, think of our father and mother, and the pride that they must feel with all five of us together, healthy and living out their dreams for us.

To be in this historic Chamber, the center of so many of the great Senate debates is humbling. My Majority Leader office and desk were directly across the hall from here.  Throughout the day I would listen to the voices of hundreds of people from around the world visit and pay respect to this room. But what I recall most are the special times here, late at night with no one around.  After closing down the Senate, I would wander into this quiet chamber to listen to the booming voices of the giants in American history, leading the country though turbulent times.

And to my staff, who gave of their time and talent to tirelessly work with me to serve their country, in the tradition of those who served in this Chamber, you have my profound thanks and admiration.  You are the bedrock of the Senate, and each of you has played a unique role in history.

And there are so many here who have been both friends and counselors — Karyn and I are blessed to know you, and your generosity has made this day and all that it presents possible.

Karyn, the boys and I have looked forward to this day for many months.  We’ve had a wonderful time working with Michael Shane Neal on this portrait.  Shane knows our entire family personally. He is not only one of the great portrait artists of our time; he is a warm and caring individual, who loves and appreciates American history and the Senate.  Eight years ago I asked him to stand as I introduced him for yet another portrait in the Capitol.  Shane, to you and Melanie and Mattie and Lily Kate, thank you.

One leaves the Senate hoping to have contributed just a little something extra to the institution. I am proud of working with my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans alike, under the leadership of President Bush, and before that President Clinton. As leader we passed together prescription drugs and historic global health legislation.

But what I hope Karyn and I also left with the Senate is a mere hint of return to the original “citizen legislator” philosophy … where one comes to the Senate from a regular job, spends a period of time –“renting the time” in office, in the words of Dr. Shumway — never owning it – and then returns to a productive career outside of politics … to live under the laws that we pass.

We have moved too far away from the noncareer politician.
What you probably didn’t know is that it was the period of this Old Senate Chamber — 1810 until 1859 — that more doctors served in the Senate than other period in history.  During that half century, 17 doctors were elected to the Senate.  Contrast that to the 50 year period during which I was elected: only one doctor was elected – and that was me.

I do hope that our two terms in the Senate – made possible by the support of so many friends with us today – our voluntarily coming and voluntarily leaving, our embodiment of that simple but foundational philosophy of “citizen-legislator,” inspires others to just “rent some time” — but not own — the public service to others.

In closing … There is one individual who was not able to travel and be with us today – one who also has had the distinct privilege of representing the great Volunteer state and ultimately also serving as Majority Leader.  That is Senator Howard Baker. It was he who pointed out to me that the Senate “greats” as Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun, were not career politicians; they typically served several non-connected terms returning to their nonpublic lives in between.  Clay, for instance, served as a senator on four separate occasions between 1806 and 1852.

Howard Baker is the epitome of what it takes to lead the Senate.  To Senator Baker, we love you and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the early encouragement to run for the Senate and great gift of friendship you have shared with me, Karyn and the boys.

… Thank you all for sharing this special day which respects the greatest and most unique institution called the United States Senate.

God bless you all, and God bless America.