'He was an American giant': Former Aurora man, press secretary remembers Dole as a hero
Sen. Bob Dole's former press secretary and a senior adviser to his 1996 presidential campaign remembered the Kansas statesman on Sunday as an American hero, a solid Republican, and a hardworking politician who also had a sense of humor.
Former Aurora resident Walt Riker called serving as Dole's press secretary from 1981 to 1993 "the highest honor of my life."
"He was an American giant," said Riker, a onetime television reporter in Kansas who later moved to the suburbs to work in corporate media relations for McDonald's in Oak Brook. "I would look at him as literally a war hero, and it was inspirational, humbling and remarkable."
Riker said he traveled with Dole to 50 states and 58 countries. One of those trips was to the battlefield in Italy where Dole was badly wounded while fighting in World War II.
"That was one of the most moving moments I have ever had my life," Riker said. "It was something to see him standing there looking out over the battlefield where so many of his comrades were killed."
"He didn't have to mention it," he added. "It was just a look on his face and the tears in his eyes."
Riker said Dole had a strong work ethic. He marveled at his late working hours.
Dole, he said, was "everything that is great about America. Sacrifice, honor, determination, and optimism."
"His word was gold," Riker added. "His stature was well-recognized. He always got things done. He served presidents and saved their agendas on Capitol Hill."
Riker said his boss wasn't flashy, but was quotable and funny, making him a popular guest on the Sunday morning news programs, late-night talk shows and, later in life, as a commercial pitchman for Pepsi and other products.
He also played along with comics like former "Saturday Night Live" performer Norm McDonald, who would poke fun at his penchant for referring to himself in the third person.
"He understood it. He could definitely take criticism and he enjoyed a good laugh at his expense, as long as it was aboveboard," Riker said.
His experience with prostate cancer also made him someone others would call seeking advice on health issues.
"Dole would take their calls sitting in his Senate desk," Riker said.
Ed Murnane, a Palatine resident who worked as a senior adviser to Dole's 1996 presidential campaign, said the former senator was highly respected by Americans of both political parties.
"He was very highly regarded within the Republican Party and he was very highly regarded nationally, so he was one of maybe a dozen true stars in the Republican Party in the last 50 years," Murnane said. "If Dole had been elected (in 1996), rather than Clinton, there would have been more of a continuation of the Reagan and Bush years, and I think that perhaps it would have been more conservative."
Murnane said he had "a fair amount of contact" with Dole when he was traveling in the Midwest.
"I respected Senator Dole," Murnane said. "I think he did a great job in the United States Senate. I think he would have done an excellent job as president of the United States."