Richard Lugar Goes Off the Record

Think you know everything about our retiring senator? Guess again.

We’re all familiar with Richard Lugar’s signature achievements. The 7,600 (and counting) Soviet warheads deactivated. Unigov. The steady demeanor that endeared him to pols on both sides of the aisle (“I don’t think we ever had a cross word or partisan fight,” says former Indiana Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton). But even after nearly 36 years in the U.S. Senate and eight as mayor of Indianapolis, there’s plenty we didn’t know—until now. As Lugar prepares to cede his seat,  a few of his closest aides and allies share sides of the revered statesman that we never saw.

Court Order
When the city conceived Market Square Arena in the 1970s as a home for the Pacers, then-Mayor Lugar had other ballers in mind. At the time, the high-school state finals were played in Bloomington. Lugar, an avid fan who had covered high-school games for the Shortridge Daily Echo in the 1940s, saw an opportunity. “I know that one of the real reasons Market Square Arena was built was to be sure that the basketball championship was played in Indianapolis,” says Jim Morris, Lugar’s former mayoral chief of staff and the current Pacers president.

Hello, Dolly!
Midway through his first term as mayor, Lugar joined Dolly Parton onstage at a concert in Garfield Park—and received an impromptu smooch on the cheek. “She said, ‘Mr. Mayor, I want you to come on down to Nashville and be our mayor,’” recalls Morris. “He blushed, thanked her, and walked off the stage.”

The Lugar Love Connection
Former aides estimate that as many as 30 “Lugar marriages” have resulted from pairings on his staff. Teresa Lubbers, his former deputy press secretary in D.C., met her husband during Lugar’s 1976 Senate campaign; former Indiana Secretary of State
Sue Anne Gilroy met hers while working in the mayor’s office. “I call him my full-service senator,” says Gilroy.

Running Mates
Aides say Lugar was a regular jogger well before it became a craze in the ’70s. He also encouraged his team to exercise with him. Gilroy once noticed a chart logging interns’ distances in Lugar’s Senate office. “They chalked up hundreds of miles,” she says. “But you noted that nobody ran more miles than Dick Lugar.”

Ladies’ Man
Lugar worked to break the glass ceiling in politics, particularly through the Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series, a kind of political academy for women. The roster of organizers and alumni includes Gilroy (Indiana’s first female secretary of state), Lubbers (commissioner of higher education and a former five-term state senator), and Lieutenant Governor Becky Skillman (the first Republican woman to hold the post). “He was willing to invest his political capital in helping us,” says Lubbers. 


Illustration by Shannon Snow

This article appeared in the November 2012 issue.

>> MORE: Lugar’s legacy by the numbers. And see our Lugar feature from December 2007, “A Farewell to Arms.”
>> Q&A: We spoke with Char Lugar as she reminisced about her life with Indiana’s senior senator.