RUSSELL, Kan. -- He's the ultimate Washington insider, with a power wife, a Watergate apartment and a well-deserved reputation as a master of the Capitol game.
Politics is the only profession he has known. For him, relaxation means a night at home watching C-SPAN, the network of the Congress, the place he spent more than half his adult life.
Gruff and gimlet-eyed, he's been called a rough campaigner -- and one of the most effective legislators this century. He was chosen by his Senate colleagues to be the Republican leader, a job he held longer than anyone in history. He also owns the record for guest appearances on that most Washington of institutions, the Sunday morning TV talk show.
This is the Bob Dole most Americans know, the man who, after climbing the political ranks for nearly half a century, will reach the highest point of his career tonight, when he officially becomes the Republican nominee for president of the United States.
But there is another Bob Dole -- far less familiar to the public -- who has been running for president this year.
A black-and-white blow-up of his face as a young man greets visitors at Dole campaign headquarters. Postcards bearing his slightly blurry portrait -- and his inspiring story of hardships surmounted -- are distributed at his campaign events. Now his tale will be told to the nation, starting with a film at the GOP convention tomorrow tonight.
He's Lt. Robert J. Dole, a fresh-faced Kansas kid in the uniform of the Army's 10th Mountain Division. He's the hard-working son of a farm community, way out on the Great Plains but dead center in the heart of the country.
This Bob Dole was a star athlete who became a handicapped veteran, a hero driven to overcome paralysis and near-fatal battlefield injuries. He's a small-town boy who married a nurse he met at an Army rehabilitation center and brought back home to live in Kansas.
A surprisingly emotional man, he has a tendency to break down in public, whether recalling the doctor and the neighbors who helped him recover, or eulogizing Richard M. Nixon, his mentor and political soul-mate.
When Dole began his career, his wartime service proved decisive at election time. But as he moved from the local to the national arena, he put increasing emphasis, at campaign time, on his vast experience in making government work.
Now, he is returning to the winning formula of his early days. The word Washington is an epithet to many today. And Dole's decades of government experience could do him more harm than good, especially as he attempts to appeal to independent swing voters.
As a result, his prowess as a canny operator in the Senate isn't being advertised this year. His service in World War II is. His campaign is also highlighting, and to some extent exaggerating, his humble beginnings in the place he left behind long ago.
But even his critics agree. There is a lot of Kansas in Bob Dole.
'Home of Bob Dole'
"Russell, Kansas. Home of Bob Dole" is painted in giant blue letters atop the grain elevator on Main Street.
In many ways, the cluster of wheat storage facilities beside the Union Pacific railroad tracks was the center of Dole's early life. The three-room bungalow where he was born, in 1923, the modest house he grew up in (and now owns) down the block, the stores where he worked as a youth, all were within 100 yards of that spot.
"Doley's" is what locals called the grain elevator, back when Bob's father, Doran Dole, ran it for the Norris Grain Co. of Chicago.
"He wore Old Spice and called women Sis," Bob Dole wrote of his father in his autobiography, "Unlimited Partners." "He cracked jokes and kept his dignity."
Farmers would come to town, to shop or to unload their wheat, and drop in to the stone building where Doran Dole worked. They'd pour a cup of coffee from the big pot he always had brewing, or grab a soda pop or a beer.
Doley would invite them to pull up a chair. He'd insult them in his wisecracking way, telling them, for instance, that their government farm payment, their "Fare well check," would be in soon.
At home, he was a man of few words.
"Students of Freud might find repression in Dad's habit of greeting a loved one with a handshake rather than a hug. Not I," wrote Bob Dole. "Around the Dole house, we were taught that gestures, like words, have an emotional currency, that compliments can be devalued by overuse. So if you mowed the lawn to perfection, on time and with every blade of grass in place, you treasured Dad's 'Pretty good.' "
Bob's mother, Bina, was the disciplinarian, and by all accounts a severe one. (She "was pretty good with a belt," Dole has said).
She was also a working mother, forced by the family's near poverty to go door-to-door selling Singer sewing machines. A perfectionist, she kept the two-bedroom house (all four Dole kids slept in the same room) immaculate. She even waxed the wooden front porch.
Up to her death in 1983, Bina was one of Bob's toughest critics. After delivering his acceptance speech as the vice presidential nominee at the 1976 Republican convention -- the biggest moment of his life to that point -- he hurried backstage and asked his mother how he'd done. "You usually do better," she replied.
Life in Kansas was especially tough during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Great clouds of topsoil blew in from the western prairie, turning day to night. Russell survived, in part, because it sat atop an oil field. One year, to make ends meet, all six Doles moved down to the basement, so Doran could rent the upstairs to an oilman.
During his current presidential campaign, the extent of Dole's boyhood poverty has been somewhat exaggerated (sometimes by Dole himself). In a speech the other day, for example, Dole said he "grew up" in the basement.
His older sister Gloria, who still lives in Russell, says that while the family "couldn't afford a lot -- we had few toys, and we #F sometimes wore cardboard in our shoes to school -- we always had enough to eat. We were never in a bread line."
From an early age, Bob helped out, working all sorts of jobs after school, on weekends and during the summer. When he was 11 or 12, he pitched in at the cream and egg station his father owned before he worked at the grain elevator.
In past campaigns, Bob Dole often told voters about that cream and egg station, as a way of connecting his working-class roots to theirs. Today, he seldom mentions it, perhaps because few voters know what a creamery is (a store where farmers brought their eggs, cream and sour cream to be sold).
Bob worked as a soda jerk at Dawson Drugs on Main Street when he was in his early teens. "That was a prestigious job in those days," recalls G. W. "Bub" Dawson, whose father hired Dole to run what was then Russell's biggest soda fountain.
"It was the watering hole for the town. Everybody went there after school."
Bobby Joe, as Dole was known back then, had a lot going for him. He was handsome (voted best-looking in his class by the girls at Russell High) and a jock (lettering in football, basketball and track).
As he whipped up sodas and sundaes behind the counter at Dawson's, he'd throw out one-liners, sort of that same put-down humor his father used at the grain elevator up the street. Bob wasn't much of a ladies' man, though. Bashful Bob, the girls called him.
Dawson Drugs paid Dole about a dollar a day and helped inspire his choice of a career. He wanted to be a surgeon. In fall 1941, he entered the University of Kansas, took pre-med courses and made the freshman basketball team.
But the war came, and by April 1943, having signed up for the Army Reserve, he was off to basic training.
Ordeal of war
"For a long time he really said very little about his war years," Elizabeth Hanford Dole, his current wife, said in an interview earlier this year.
"Of course, I knew about his injuries before we were married [in 1975], but I had no idea of the extent, all the things that had happened. For example, twice he almost died. His temperature was up at 106 or 107.
"Just the whole story did not really come out until a veterans magazine was asking him the questions and they sort of pulled it out of him."
On April 15, 1945, in the hills of northern Italy, while leading his platoon's attack on a German machine gun nest, Bob Dole felt "a sharp sting" in the back of his right shoulder.
"Then I couldn't move, and somebody turned me over and my arms were above my head and I couldn't move my arms and, you know, then I knew something was wrong," Dole recalled in a TV interview last year, as he walked the battlefield again for the network cameras.
Dole's shoulder had been shattered, probably by an exploding German shell. His collarbone was crushed, one lung was punctured and he was paralyzed from the neck down.
That June, he was shipped back to Kansas in a body cast, "boxed up, you know, like a piece of furniture," he said long afterward.
The next month, his temperature hit 108.7. His right kidney was removed. For nearly a year, he couldn't feed himself. The strapping 6-foot-2 Dole watched his weight drop from 194 to 122 pounds.
For the next 2 1/2 years, he was in and out of the Army medical center in Battle Creek, Mich. During this grueling period, he had to learn how to walk and feed himself again.
When he wasn't in the hospital, he'd spend hours beside a shed in his back yard in Russell, trying to rebuild strength in his arms by pulling on a homemade weight machine, a rope tied to four rusty window sash-weights.
"Mom used to say, 'You've got to stop,' " recalls his sister, Gloria. "She was afraid he was going to overdo, and he always did overdo."
In an effort to straighten his useless right arm, he wore a felt-covered lead brace, built by a high school friend.
When he arranged to go to Chicago for reconstructive surgery in 1947, the people of Russell contributed $1,800 to a Bob Dole Fund that began with a few dollars dropped into a cigar box on the counter at Dawson Drugs. Of all the Russell boys who went off to war and lived, Dole had come back in the worst shape.
"The town kind of adopted Bob," recalls Bub Dawson.
The surgeon who performed the operation, Dr. Hampar Kelikian, did the best he could to repair Dole's wounded arm, now 2 1/2 inches shorter than his left. But he was unable to restore it.
Today, Dole keeps a pen or a rolled up sheaf of paper in his useless right hand, to keep his fingers from splaying and to discourage others from grabbing it. Shaking hands, that most fundamental of all forms of voter contact, is denied Dole.
"People often look at you as if you were a clod and didn't know which hand to shake with," he told the Kansas City Star after his election to the Senate in 1968.
During the night, he grasps a padded wooden block, the cut off top of a crutch, to prevent cramping. Cold weather causes the arm to ache.
His "good" hand, the left one, has only limited feeling; he cannot tell the difference between a dime and quarter with his eyes closed. Getting dressed in the morning takes nearly an hour (he uses a button hook, and has particular trouble with the collar button on his heavily starched white shirts).
He must rely on others for everyday needs. Someone has to cut meat into bite-sized pieces for him, and for that reason he seldom eats at political dinners.
More important than what Dr. Kelikian did for Dole's arm was what he did for his attitude. "There would be no miracles," he told his patient.
"What he was really saying," as Dole remarked years later, "was accept the situation and get on with the business of life." When Kelikian died in 1983, Dole tearfully eulogized him on the floor on the United States Senate.
The doctor's words made him realize that he must abandon his dream of becoming a surgeon and of playing college basketball again. He started thinking about law school instead.
"Every day I feel that I have to prove something," Dole said in his 1968 interview with the Star. "Since I can't hang a picture, I have to do something else. You have to prove to yourself and to everyone else that 'I can do as much as you.' "
Early political career
In early 1948, while in Michigan for therapy on his rebuilt arm, he met an occupational therapist, Phyllis Holden, at a dance at the medical center. Three months later, they were married in her hometown of Concord, N.H.
For almost a quarter-century, she followed him -- to college in Arizona; to Topeka, where he attended law school at Washburn University in Topeka (she took his notes in class and wrote the bar exam for him, while he dictated); back to Russell; and finally to Washington.
They had one child, a daughter, Robin, who became a Washington lobbyist and, at 41, works in her father's campaign.
Phyllis was central to Dole's struggle to regain his self-assurance as he recovered from his wound. But she never really took to his new obsession, politics, and they gradually drifted apart.
One day in the early 1970s, Dole walked into their Northern Virginia house and announced simply, "I want out." They were divorced in 1972 but remain on good terms.
Like millions of other GIs from World War II, Bob Dole worshiped Dwight D. Eisenhower, a fellow son of small-town Kansas.
When Ike went to Abilene to kick off his campaign for the 1952 Republican presidential nomination, the 28-year-old Dole was among those standing in the rain to cheer him.
At the time, Dole had quite a budding political career of his own. He'd gone from the presidency of the Hi-Y at the Methodist Church in Russell and the vice presidency of the Kappa Sigma fraternity at K.U. to serving a term in the Kansas House of Representatives.
Though his parents had been New Deal Democrats, Dole became a Republican, as he tells it, after learning that there were a lot more Republicans than Democrats in Russell County. In 1952, while Ike was becoming president, Dole won the job of county attorney.
"On primary day I scored a narrow win over Dean Ostrum, a Yale-educated lawyer whose professional credentials probably counted less than the voters' sympathy for a banged-up veteran," Dole wrote in his autobiography.
Last Friday, as he made his way westward to claim the Republican nomination, Dole stopped at the Eisenhower Center in Abilene, before heading to Russell to introduce his running mate, Jack Kemp.
Bob Dole left Russell in 1960, after he was elected to Congress in the final months of the Eisenhower administration. Soon after coming to Washington, he began making speaking trips around the country, picking up IOUs from fellow Republicans.
Moving up to the Senate in 1968, he quickly earned a reputation as an ardent Nixon defender. Nixon rewarded him with the job of Republican National chairman, which Dole held through most of the Watergate era.
In 1974, Dole won the toughest re-election race of his life, pulling out all the stops to defeat Democrat Bill Roy. For the first time in that campaign, voters were told the full story of his war wound.
In that campaign, one year after the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, Dole became one of the first politicians to exploit the issue. With polls showing the race too close to call, he made a last-minute accusation against Roy, an obstetrician, labeling him an abortionist (though personally opposed to abortion, Roy had performed them when the health of his patients was at stake).
The next year, in a ceremony at the National Cathedral, the Senate chaplain married Bob Dole and Elizabeth Hanford, a rising Washington star in her own right. Their honeymoon was cut short when 75-year-old Doran Dole, who had stayed behind at the couple's Watergate apartment, suffered an aneurysm and died.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford picked Bob Dole as his running mate, and hatchet man.
"You're going to be the tough guy," Ford told him, according to Dole's own account. Their first campaign stop after leaving the convention in Kansas City was Russell.
Dole stood before 10,000 people crammed onto the red-brick pavement of the tiny business district and recalled how the town had come to his aid so many years before.
"If I've succeeded," he said, looking at familiar faces in the crowd, "it is because of people I've known up and down Main Street.
"And I can recall the time when I needed help, the people of Russell helped. And I think " He paused, bringing his good hand up to his eyes, and began to weep.
After a few moments of stunned silence, scattered applause began. Ford rose from his seat to lead the clapping.
Finally, Dole resumed, in a voice still choked by emotion. "That was a long time ago," he said. "And I thank you for it."
Robert Joseph Dole
Age: 73; born July 22, 1923, in Russell, Kan.
Education: University of Kansas, 1941-1943; University of Arizona, 1948-1949; earned dual bachelor's and law degree from Washburn Municipal University in Topeka, 1952.
Military service: Army, 1943-1948. Served as combat platoon leader with 10th Mountain Division in Italy. Wounded, 1945. Awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star with oak leaf cluster.
Political career: Kansas House of Representatives, 1951-1953; Russell county attorney, 1953-1961; U.S. House, 1961-1969; U.S. Senate, 1969-1996; Republican National Committee chairman, 1971-1973; Republican vice presidential candidate, 1976; Senate majority and minority leader, 1984-1996; candidate, Republican presidential nomination, 1980, 1988.
Personal: Wife, Mary Elizabeth Hanford, 60, former U.S. transportation secretary and labor secretary, currently on leave as president of the American Red Cross; married in 1975, three years after divorcing wife of 23 years, Phyllis Holden. One daughter by first marriage, Robin. Methodist. Resides in Washington, D.C.
Pub Date: 8/14/96