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2018 Notable Deaths In Politics


On my regular beat here at NPR, I'm a correspondent covering national politics. And in that capacity, I've been looking back at 2018 and the passing of some notable personalities in the political world. There was a former president and, months earlier, his first lady, a prisoner of war turned senator turned presidential nominee turned critic of the current president. And there were the less well-known, those whose lives also captured our attention and made a mark. We begin our remembrance with this.


GONYEA: The funeral of a president is a chance to reflect on a public life and the private one. The nation remembered the George H.W. Bush of Operation Desert Storm who navigated the end of the Soviet Union and of read my lips. And there was the family man as eulogized by his son, George W.


GEORGE W BUSH: In his old age, dad enjoyed watching police show reruns, volume on high...


G. BUSH: ...All the while holding mom's hand. After mom died, dad was strong, but all he really wanted to do was hold mom's hand again.

GONYEA: Mom, of course, is Barbara Bush, who died in April. She was an unusually outspoken political spouse. Many found her bluntness endearing. Sometimes, her family would wince, like on "The Today Show" on NBC in 2015, when she was asked if her son Jeb should run for president.


BARBARA BUSH: He's by far the best qualified man, but no, I really don't.

GONYEA: Then came the kicker.


B. BUSH: There are just - there are other people out there that are very qualified, and we've had enough Bushes.

GONYEA: John McCain's resume is well known - 30-plus years as a senator, enduring torture as a POW in Vietnam, GOP nominee for president. In August, he lost his battle with cancer. In a long career, this speech stands out - on the Senate floor, the long scar from recent brain surgery visible over his eyebrow.


JOHN MCCAIN: Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the Internet. To hell with them.


MCCAIN: They don't want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood. Let's trust each other.

GONYEA: Now, some other notables - Ron Dellums was mayor of Oakland, Calif., and before that a 13-term congressman, a progressive Democrat who battled the Pentagon on spending and a leader in the fight to end apartheid in South Africa. Here he is at a massive 1990 rally with Nelson Mandela, who had recently been released from a South African prison.


RON DELLUMS: We went to make history, not to make headlines. We want Nelson Mandela and the people of South Africa to know that we will stand shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip until apartheid is eradicated.


GONYEA: 2018 has been called the year of the woman because so many sought and won political office. Margaret Heckler would have been pleased. The former congresswoman from Massachusetts died in August. First elected in 1966, she was a moderate, even liberal, Republican who co-sponsored the Equal Rights Amendment and co-founded the Congressional Women's Caucus. In 1996 on C-SPAN, she recalled her own experience as a young lawyer unable to get hired.


MARGARET HECKLER: And that left in me a burning understanding of the discrimination that women can face and a sympathy and empathy for anyone who faced discrimination in any way because it's always the same experience. You are barred from the activity that you wish to participate in.

GONYEA: Now, another activist, Rosanell Eaton of North Carolina, died this month at 97. An African-American, she fought for voting rights all her life and in her final years was a plaintiff in the successful challenge to a restrictive state voter ID law. Here is Eaton at a rally in 2013 outside the state capital.


ROSANELL EATON: Here I am at 92 years old...


EATON: ...Doing the same battling. We need more, not less, public access to the ballot.


GONYEA: Now, Zell Miller, governor of Georgia in the 1990s and later a U.S. senator. A conservative Democrat, he survived as the GOP solidified its hold on the state. In 2004, he gave Republicans a big PR coup when he endorsed President Bush in a primetime speech at the Republican National Convention and lashed out at his own party.


ZELL MILLER: What has happened to the party I've spent my life working in? I can remember when Democrats believed it was the duty of America to fight for freedom over tyranny.

GONYEA: Finally, one last passing of note - an unusual one by any standard for any year even for politics. Dennis Hof was a Republican candidate for the state assembly in Nevada, heard here in a campaign ad.


DENNIS HOF: I am Dennis Hof, 42 years in Nevada, proud businessman. I have the same concerns you do.

GONYEA: But here's the you-can't-make-it-up twist - he owns several legal brothels in Nevada. He sold sex for a living. And, just weeks before Election Day, he died in his sleep, but his name remained on the ballot. Then came the election. Here is KTNV-TV news in Las Vegas.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: One month after his death, Republican brothel owner Dennis Hof has been voted into Nevada's state assembly.

GONYEA: Yep, he won. The Republican governor then named a Republican to take Hof's seat, and so went 2018. Ready for next year?

(SOUNDBITE OF PDP'S "MISSING YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.