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Lee Hamilton: 'You'll Never See Another One Quite Like Birch'

Hamilton and Birch Bayh at a pole raising.

Hamilton and Bayh at a pole raising in 1968. (IU Archives)

Former Congressman Lee Hamilton is remembering his longtime friend former U.S. Senator Birch Bayh, who died at 91 Thursday

Their friendship spans nearly seven decades. The two first met in the 1950s when they were presidents of the same fraternity at each of their universities. They remained close confidantes for decades.

"Over the years he's been a steady friend," Hamilton says. 

Hamilton and Bayh both started representing Hoosiers in Washington, D.C. in the 1960s. Hamilton calls Bayh an iconic figure in Indiana politics, and says he changed the way people campaign in Indiana. 

"He would stand, for example, at the corner of the stoplight in Nashville, Indiana when the trees were turning colors and the cars would be backed up for miles," Hamilton says. "And then he’d go down the line and shake hands with people in every car. He just never stopped campaigning."

That included while out for lunch or dinner. Hamilton says Bayh would often get up in the middle of a meal to shake hands with everybody in the restaurant. 

But there was one thing Bayh did stop campaigning for: ice cream. 

"He loved Dairy Queens. He knew every Dairy Queen in the state of Indiana. We would drive through Osgood, Indiana at 10 o'clock at night, and he'd say 'Lee, that place doesn't close 'til 10:30. Let's stop for a Dairy Queen.'"

While Bayh only served three terms in the U.S. Senate, he accomplished more than some politicians do in their entire careers. He wrote the 25th and 26th Amendments, which create a presidential succession plan and set the voting age at 18. 

"I think he wrote more of the Constitution than any senator since James Madison," Hamilton says.

Bayh was also the lead sponsor of Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in education. 

"Every woman in the country owes him a debt of gratitude because by Title IX he really did open up opportunities, especially for women, profoundly impacting their lives," Hamilton says. 

Perhaps nothing says more about a politician than how his colleagues on the other side of the aisle view him. Hamilton says Bayh managed to gain the respect of both Democrats and Republicans. 

"I don't recall anybody bad mouthing him. Everybody liked Birch Bayh."

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