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Remembering Senator Edward “Ted” Brooke

People pass away, but memories do not.  That happened for me again with the passing of former Republican United States Senator Edward “Ted” Brooke, of Massachusetts, at the age of 95.  Serving from 1967 to 1979, Brooke was the first African-American to serve in the Senate since Hiram Revels and Blanche Bruce, also black Republicans, who served during the post Civil War Reconstruction period in the 1870s.

The Democrat Party would not elect a black United States Senator until the election of Carol Mosley Brown, in 1993.  I also knew her, since she was a local Chicago public official during my tenure as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago.

I had two occasions to spend time with Senator Brooke.  The first was during the 1968 presidential election.  Candidate Richard Nixon was coming to town for a “ticker tape” parade down LaSalle Street as  his first post nomination event.  The crowds were so large and enthusiastic in this Democrat city that I was sure Nixon would win in the General Election.

I was a young GOP volunteer in those days.  My assignment was to escort Senator Brook – driving him around town and generally serving as an aide de camp.  We had a lot of time for discussion as I drove him from appointment to appointment in my three-year-old Pontiac LeMans with a repair patch on the right rear fender.

I was then to drop Brooke off at the parade starting point.  When I got there, I got a pleasant surprise.  Secret Service agents told me to park my car and take the wheel of a brand new Lincoln convertible.  They wanted me to drive the Senator in the parade.  They then directed me to a spot just behind the Secret Service car trailing the Lincoln convertible that would chauffeur Nixon through the parade.

We waited for about fifteen minutes for Nixon to arrive.  Seeing Brooke, he walked over to our car and exchanged greetings with both Brooke and me.

I drove the route with a blizzard of confetti filling the car to about two feet.  I was literally driving without being able to see past my knees.

Following the parade, Brooke returned to my car.  A police escort, with lights flashing and sirens blaring, took us to Midway Airport.  I drove directly on to the tarmac and alongside the Nixon plane. With the Kennedy assassination such a recent memory, the area surrounding the plane was a ring of uniformed military and police personnel.

After the departure of the Nixon plane, with Senator Brooke aboard, I had a few minutes to chat more casually with the secret service guys.  When I made mention of all the security, I recall one of the agents telling me that they wanted Nixon to remain in a closed car, but the future President insisted in sitting on the back deck, occasionally standing to wave to the crowd.  The agent said that they take every precaution possible, but there is no such thing as 100 percent protection.

They also showed me some of the “special features” of the Lincoln that carried Nixon.  It looked a lot like the one I drove, but was quite different.  It was one of the Secret Service cars.  The back bench seat, on which Nixon stood, was an arsenal.  Lifting up the seat like a toy box, I could see machine guns, pistols and even hand grenades.  The back of the front bucket seats broke way to reveal more weapons.  All the metal was reinforced, and the car had three levels of siren – which seemed to me to be (1) excuse me, you need to get out of our way, (2) MOVE, because we are taking off and (3) peddle to the metal for the fastest escape.

My second chance to sit with then former Senator Brooke was when he came to the City Club as one of my monthly luncheon speakers.  During lunch, he and I had some time to reminisce about the Nixon parade, with him sounding convincingly that he remembered me.

On both occasions, he struck me as a very nice, rather humble, person.  He was always polite and most considerate.   He was one of the people that the world needs more of.  I have always been appreciative of the opportunity to get to know him, even just a little bit.

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