Sunday, January 6, 2008

In humility, greatness

Former Governor Lee Sherman Dreyfus' funeral service in Waukesha today was just as he wanted it: simple and close to his family.

A few months ago Lee confided in a mutual friend that while he could have the pomp and circumstance of a viewing at the state capitol, he didn't think it would nice to make his wife, Joyce, drive the 60 miles to Madison.

If you knew Lee, you'd know that he was telling it as it is.

Though known for his eloquent oratory and trademark red vest, Lee Dreyfus was very much the person who never forgot his roots and, above all, his family.

In December 1978, just a few days before taking office, Lee told me that his plan was for Sunday to be, insofar as possible, "family day." He did his best to hold true to that promise.

Fast forward to 1982 when the popular governor could have skated to another term but he strolled out into the capitol with Joyce at his side to announce that he wasn't seeking another term.

The reason: family.

And so today hundreds of people came to honor a man who cared about the people of this state, a guy more comfortable socializing with his security staff than hanging out with the blue bloods.

Instead of the fancy capitol rotunda, a simple meeting area at the new state office building in Waukesha that bears his name was the site of today's wake. Some people signed the guest book with their formal titles; others just with their name and address. And so politicians past and present mingled with friends, neighbors, reporters and quite a few police officers who stopped by to pay respects to a governor that respected them.

I said it before and will say it again that Wisconsin is a richer state because of the wit, wisdom and integrity of Lee Sherman Dreyfus. While Lee certainly was an original, the state drastically needs a reasonable facsimile -- soon.

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