It’s fitting that former U.S Sen. David Durenberger, who died at 88 Jan. 31, was memorialized in St. John’s Abbey and then laid to rest in the abbey cemetery.
The abbey and St. John’s University had long been close to Dave’s heart. His father, George, was athletic director of SJU for four decades. Dave was born in St. Cloud but raised on the campus where he absorbed deeply the Benedictine values of good works and kindness that informed his life, including his highly productive work as a senator for 16 years. He attended SJU Prep School and graduated from SJU, then later earned a law degree from the University of Minnesota.
Durenberger was very much a “people person.” Ask anyone who met him or worked with him. He loved to talk with – not at – people. He exuded a tall gentle kindness, he truly listened, he asked lots of questions and he worked very hard to achieve legislation that would improve the lives, the futures, of all Americans.
He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978 (a special election to fill the seat left by Hubert Humphrey, who had died mid-term). Durenberger was re-elected in 1982 and in 1988 before retiring after his third term.
His accomplishments as a senator were far-reaching and to this day enhance our lives. It was major legislation, much of it drafted by him or passed with his legendary abilities to broker agreements among Democrats and Republicans. Among those achievements are these: health-care policies and reforms, the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Women’s Economic Equity Act, the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, countless laws and regulations to protect natural resources, the environment, acid-rain reduction, workplace safety, and much more.
Unlike so many self-centered, power-mad politicians these days, Durenberger was not an ego-centric, strutting grandstander. He rolled up his sleeves and worked diligently as a public servant with one goal in mind: How to improve the lives of the American people, all of the people.
Disgusted by the radical fringe groups and infighting that had erupted in the Republican Party, Durenberger announced in 2005 he would thenceforth be an Independent but definitely not a Democrat. Nevertheless, he said Democrats are better equipped to handle health-care reforms, and he decided to endorse Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in their campaigns for the presidency.
Durenberger was in fact a progressive Republican, a rarity these days. He was rational, reasonable, hard-working and willing to compromise and to negotiate tangled hurdles to get things done.
Thank you, Dave Durenberger, and welcome home. Our lives are better because of your selfless hard work and public service.