"This was the noblest Roman of them all."
- Marc Antony of Caesar
So it can be said of Georgia's U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell, who died Tuesday at age 61. This was the noblest senator of them all. The poignant testimonials pouring forth from bereaved national lawmakers of both parties attest to this signal tribute.
This was a principled statesman with a strong work ethic, a consensus builder who reached out to both sides of the aisle. He was also a gentle man - and a gentleman.
The unexpected death of Georgia's senior senator, after complications from a massive stroke, deprives our state and nation of an outstanding public servant. Georgians had begun to regard him not merely as a great personality in his own right, but as the chief adviser and strategist to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.
A desire for a two-party state led the insurance executive to win a Georgia Senate seat in 1970. He became the Senate minority leader four years later - when there were only four GOP caucus members. During the Reagan era - 1985-87 - he served as a Georgia Republican Party chairman who breathed new life into fund-raising and candidate recruitment.
Coverdell struck up a friendship with the late political genius Lee Atwater, and they emerged as vocal proponents of the Republican "Southern strategy." First unveiled by Richard Nixon and Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., it involved luring and retaining Democrat blue collar voters to enhance the GOP's base. Coverdell and Atwater also looked into their crystal ball and saw then-Vice President George Bush as presidential material. They traveled from civic clubs to bowling alleys as they campaigned tirelessly for his victory in 1988.
President Bush, in 1989, named his loyal lieutenant as director of the U.S. Peace Corps. As usual, Coverdell worked around-the-clock to modernize the Corps and, in a special project, he enhanced free enterprise and democracy through Corps workers in the former Communist countries of eastern Europe.
As an underdog candidate in 1992, and stung by the death of Atwater, he struggled to win a run-off to claim the U.S. Senate seat to which he was re-elected in 1998. A staunch proponent of fiscal responsibility, in recent years the senator became an expert in foreign affairs - and his last project was passage of a massive anti-drug assistance package to the nation of Colombia.
Paul Coverdell, the epitome of the noble Roman citizen/senator, leaves a high and respected place in the history of Georgia and our nation.
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