Kentucky lost a proud citizen of distinction and hero recently when former U.S Sen. Jim Bunning passed away May 26, 2017, at age 85. Jim and his wife, Mary, were devoted parents to 11 children (including two sets of twins) and proud grandparents to 35 grandchildren, as well as great grandparents to 14.
Sen. Bunning’s distinguished political career followed a very successful professional baseball career. He pitched two no-hitters, the first when he played for Detroit Tigers and the second when he played for the Philadelphia Phillies. He played professional baseball from 1955 until he retired in 1971. His legendary baseball career concluded with his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Unlike many modern professional athletes, Bunning completed his education first, at Xavier University with a degree in economics.
Kentuckians know Jim Bunning as their former two-term U.S. senator, and before that a six-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Kentucky’s 4th Congressional District. Prior to his service in Washington, he was the Republican leader in the Kentucky Senate. In politics, he focused his energy and support for the traditional conservative issues that guided his life.
His conservatism showed through often as he opposed measures for programs not paid for but simply added to the deficit. He believed government must pay for its programs and mandates as it proceeds, and not simply defer ever more debt to our children and grandchildren.
Sen. Bunning was an imposing figure to be reckoned with, whether on the athletic field or in the halls of Congress. At 6’3”, he was fearless as a baseball pitcher. He was just as fearless in politics. His 20-plus years in the U.S. Congress demonstrated the same skills he learned in earlier athletic contests.
Bunning never toadied to the institutional media – in fact, sports writers and broadcasters never did vote him into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His induction vote finally came from the veteran players themselves.
His family always came first, and his love and dedication to them was always clear. Today, it remains a family that cherishes each other. Father’s Day 2017 will have a special feeling this year for his beloved widow Mary and each member of that large family. Family first – that’s the way it’s always been in the Bunning family – and that’s the way it should be.
Sen. Bunning never did scrape or bow to the political media either; it was not his nature to curry favor. And he always regarded the House and Senate seat he occupied as belonging not to him but to the people of Kentucky.
Whether you agreed or disagreed with Bunning’s position on issues, you could always trust that he would do what he believed to be the right thing for the people he represented and the people of our country.
Jim Bunning loved his family, he loved his friends, and he served his Creator. While he worked hard when he campaigned, in one campaign in the ’80s, he refused to campaign on Sundays because he and Mary had earlier agreed to be Eucharistic ministers on Sundays at their home church. No campaign stops on Sunday when they needed to be home and at their church.
Jim Bunning was an exceptional athlete, well educated, an excellent husband and father, an accomplished public official, but most of all, a good man. Farewell, Jim – you have served your family and your fellow Kentuckians with untold loyalty and energy. And in addition to all these accolades, you have been a team player, willing to help your fellow Republican candidates navigate the rocky path to a win on Election Day. It was a high honor to share that path with you. ■
Pat Freibert is a former Kentucky state representative from Lexington. She can be reached at [email protected]