What I Know: Lee Hamilton

The former Congressman on politics, basketball, and coming back to Indiana.

Editor’s Note: Former U.S. House representative Lee Hamilton’s wife Nancy died in Bloomington on Aug. 11, in an accident when her own car rolled back and struck and ran over her. Here, our December 2010 conversation with Lee Hamilton in which he speaks about his wife.

AGE: 79 WHEREABOUTS:Just returned home, to direct The Center on Congress at Indiana University. FORMER GIG: Retired in November as the director of the D.C.-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; represented southeastern Indiana in Congress from 1965 to 1999. POSITION: Basketball center for Evansville High School from 1947 to 1948; center and forward for DePauw from 1948 to 1952; inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982.

I came to Washington when Lyndon Johnson was president.

I was, of course, overwhelmed by the place for a few months.

I’m a great fan of Indiana sweet corn.

When I was traveling back and forth during the summer months, I’d often get on the air- plane with a brown bag of sweet corn, which usually drew stares.

As a young boy, I was very focused on basketball, and that was my chief interest in life. I don’t know that I’d recommend that for others, but it worked out all right for me.

I have never seen a DePauw basketball game, because I played for four years. One of my ambitions is to go see a game.

I remember distinctly walking across the stage to get my diploma, thinking to myself that I really didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to do.

My classmates seemed to be so much more well-directed than I.

I’ve always wondered how I would’ve done in pro ball.

Probably not all that well.

As a young member of Congress, I made a parliamentary mistake on the floor. I was in the majority party, and Gerry Ford was the minority leader. He sent a mem- ber of the Indiana delegation over to me—across the aisle—to tell me I had made a mistake and how to correct the mistake.

It’s hard to conceive of something like that happening today.

At the end of the day, I’m impressed with the difficulty of making this great big marvelous country of ours work.

My wife is not all that impressed with politicians. She’s met a lot of them.

I’ve always had haircuts in the Raybum House Office Build- ing on Capitol Hill. I know the barbers there very well.

I grew up with a crew cut because I have a double cowlick.

During the early part of my congressional career, long hair became very popular, and the haircut was a bit of an oddity.

Now, people are coming back to my standards. 

—as told to Adam Wren

Photograph by ©David Hawxhurst/WWICS

This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue