Tribute to Hubert H. Humphrey

He is a man who has touched my life and that of my family, as I’m sure he’s touched almost everyone here, in a strange and very delightful way. And I’m going to tell you just a few brief instances that occurred, actually, long before I had any dreams of coming to Washington myself.

The first time I heard about Senator Humphrey was when I was in the navy, and he made a famous speech at the Democratic National Convention. He was quite well known in Georgia. I don’t think anyone else has kept more Georgia politicians from seeing the end of a Democratic convention than Senator Humphrey has, because it got so that every time he walked in, they walked out and came back home.

So, in 1964, when he became the vice-presidential candidate, in Georgia, it wasn’t a very popular thing to be for the Johnson-Humphrey slate. My mother, Lillian, ran the Sumter County Johnson-Humphrey headquarters. And I could always tell when my mother was coming down the road, because she was in a brand-new automobile with the windows broken out, the radio antenna tied in a knot, and the car painted with soap.

In that campaign, Hubert and Muriel came down to south Georgia to Moultrie for a Democratic rally. And because of my mother’s loyalty, she was given the honor of picking up Muriel at the airport. And Rosalynn and my mother and Muriel and my sister Gloria went down to Moultrie to attend the rally. Senator Humphrey made a speech, and they had a women’s reception for Muriel. And they were riding around that south Georgia town getting ready for the reception. Everybody in town was very excited. And as Muriel approached the site, she said, «Are any black women invited to the reception?»

For a long time no one spoke, and finally my sister said, «I don’t know.» She knew quite well that they weren’t. And Muriel said, «I’m not going in.» So, they stopped the car, and my sister Gloria went inside to check and let the hostess know that Muriel was not coming to the reception. But in a few minutes, Gloria came back and said, «Mrs. Humphrey, it’s okay.» So, she went in and, sure enough, there were several black ladies there at the reception. And Muriel never knew until now that the maids just took off their aprons for the occasion. But that was the first integrated reception in south Georgia, Muriel, and you are responsible for it.

Ten or eleven years ago, when I was not in political office at all, Senator Humphrey was vice-president. He had been to Europe on a long, tedious, very successful trip. And he came down to Atlanta, Georgia, to visit in the home of a friend named Marvin Shube. And I was invited there to meet him, which was a great honor for me. I have never yet met a Democratic president, and he was the only Democratic vice-president I had ever met. And I stood there knowing that he was very weary because he had just returned from Europe. But he answered the eager questions of those Georgia friends until quite late in the morning, about two o’clock. And he was very well briefed, because when I walked in the room, he said, «Young man, I understand that your mother is in the Peace Corps in India.»

And I said, «Yes, sir, that’s right.» He said, «Well, I’ve been very interested in the Peace Corps. The idea originally came from me, and I’ve been proud to see it put into effect.» He said, «Where’s your mother?» And I said, «She’s near Bombay.» He said, «How’s she getting along?» I said, «Well, she’s quite lonely, sir. She’s been there about six months, and she’s not seen anybody, even the Peace Corps officials. She’s in a little town called Vikhroli.»

About a month later, I got a letter from my mother. She was in her room one evening, and the head of the Peace Corps in India had driven up to the little town of Vikhroli. He came in and asked my mother if she needed anything. She said, no, she was getting along quite well, but she would like to go over to Bombay. He said, «Well, can I take you in shopping, Mrs. Carter?» She said, «Yes, I’d like that.» So, they went in, and he bought her a very fine supper and brought her back to Vikhroli. When he got out, he handed her a fifth of very good bourbon. And he turned around to get in the car to leave, and he finally turned back to her and said, «By the way, Miss Lillian, who in the hell are you, anyway?» And that’s a true story. It was not until later that my mother knew who she was. She was a friend of Hubert Humphrey.

And, of course, the next time he crossed my path was in 1968 when he was our nominee for president. And all of us in this room went through that year of tragedy together when he was not elected to be the leader of our country. And I think he felt then an urging to be loyal to his president and, unfortunately, many people were not that loyal to him. And his loss was our nation’s even greater loss in 1968.

The next time I saw him was when I was governor. He came to our home in 1972. All the candidates just happened to stop by to see me that year, and my daughter, Amy, was about four years old. And most of the ones who would come into the mansion–she stayed away from them, having an early aversion to politicians. But when Senator Humphrey came in, she loved him instantly.

And I’ll never forget sitting in the front presidential suite of the Georgia governor’s mansion, a very beautiful room, trying to talk to Senator Humphrey. Amy came in eating a soft brownie, and she climbed up on his lap without any timidity at all. In a very natural way, he put his arm around her as though she was his own grandchild. And I’ll always remember Senator Humphrey sitting there talking to me about politics and about the campaign, smiling often, with brownie all over his face. And each time he frowned, brownie crumbs fell to the floor. And Amy loved him then and has loved him ever since. But I think she recognized in him the qualities that have aroused the love of so many people.

And then, of course, last year all I could hear everywhere I went when I said, «Would you help me become president?» almost invariably they would say, «Well, my first preference is Hubert Humphrey. If he doesn’t run, I’ll support you.» And there again, I learned on a nationwide basis the relationship between Senator Humphrey and the people of this country.

But I think the most deep impression I have of my good friend Hubert Humphrey is since I’ve been president. I’ve seen him in the oval office early in the morning. I’ve seen him in meetings with other congressional leaders. I’ve called him on the phone when I was in trouble. I’ve gotten his quiet and private and sound advice. And I’ve come to recognize that all the attributes that I love about America are resident in him. And I’m proud to be the president of a nation that loves a man like Hubert Humphrey and is loved so deeply by him.