Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Howard Kohr tribute to Mayer Mitchell

One of the more inspiring people in my life is Howard Kohr, AIPAC's Executive Director. He's a great man, motivator and speaker. He was one of the people chosen to speak at Bubba Mitchell's funeral and I have to tell you, he was incredible.

Bubba was one of his mentors and reading this speech doesn't do it justice, but it needs to be read to understand both men. Enjoy.

Arlene, I cannot begin without expressing the deep love and affection that we all have for you. Throughout your life – and in particular in this past year – which I know was especially trying -- you have been an “eshet hayil” – a true woman of valor. Having known you and Bubba so long and having spent so much time with both of you, I know that you feel blessed to have had a life with Bubba -- but, Arlene, it was equally a blessing for Bubba to have you.

To you Arlene, and to you, Abe – his partner and best friend Fannie, Ann -- and to Joy, Melinda, Richard, Lisa, and the entire family I want you to know that I consider this to be one of the great honors of my life to be asked to speak and pay tribute to your husband, brother, father, and grandfather.

You know, I spent a lot of time walking the halls of Congress with Bubba. Often, after an election, I would introduce some of the new members of Congress. Inevitably, a few of them would call me a day or two later and ask if I could get them back in touch with the Mayor of Mobile. I would laugh and let them know that they had met the Mayer from Mobile, not the Mayor of Mobile. But, as you can imagine, after just one more meeting, as the bonds of friendship began to take hold, he became to them what he was to all of us – Bubba. And, once you had Bubba in your life, you knew you had something special.

Bubba was a planner.

He had a clear idea of how things should be and a discipline that allowed him to realize his vision. It was in that spirit that he called me last spring when he heard that his good friend the Republican Leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, would be the keynote speaker at AIPAC’s Annual Policy Conference in Washington. He wanted to be sure that he would be able to introduce the Senator – who honors us with his presence here today -- I of course agreed, because you just did that when Bubba called. However, as important as providing a proper introduction for his friend Mitch was, this time Bubba had more he wanted to say. He said, “Howard, I’m not feeling too well and for all I know this could be my last conference, and I have something I want to say.”

He began his remarks at the conference that evening with a simple question. Bubba asked: “Have I made a difference?” He went on: “It is a question that many of us ask ourselves, particularly as we advance in age. For me,” Bubba said, “it is a question that has become persistent – and the answer more important – in a year of personal health difficulties.”

If you were there that night you know that in asking that question Bubba wasn’t really speaking about himself. He was holding himself up as a standard bearer of the pro-Israel movement in America – he was asking everyone if we have done enough. In challenging himself he was challenging us -- to make the most of the opportunities that God has given us and realize that we have a sacred obligation to ourselves and to each other.

It was vintage Bubba: Make yourself the example. Challenge others to follow.

Bubba was a humble and wise man.

Despite his many accomplishments, Bubba was a man of great humility. In a world of politics, where it is so easy to become cynical or jaded, Bubba remained respectful and grateful for the opportunity to play a role in history. He never lost his sense of awe.

How many times did he put his arm around one of us at a particular historic moment or in a place of renown and remind us to appreciate that moment -- to remember how blessed we are to live in America and to enjoy the freedoms and opportunities we are afforded.

It was September of 1991. Bubba and I were about to meet with the President of the United States in the Oval Office – we were there to ask him not to link urgently needed loan guarantees for Russian immigrants to Israeli politics and policies. We knew it would not be an easy conversation to have.

In the moments before we headed to the White House, Bubba told me, “You have to get yourself ready for this. And to do that, you have to do two things. You have to spend time to realize the awesome power of this office. And then you have to not be intimated by it.”

Bubba was not one to dish out advice that he himself did not live by. And a few hours later I listened as he spoke truth to power, respectfully, carefully, but clearly. I listened as he made his case, relaying to the President in detail about his own parent’s exodus out of Russia, fleeing persecution and pogroms. “Mr. President,” he said, “this is not an abstraction for me. This is deeply personal. Mr. President, you have an historic opportunity to make things different for the next generation.”

The son of Russian immigrants, the man from Mobile was always able to say and do what he felt was the right thing -- because he believed so passionately that he—and each of us still -- has a critical role to play to ensure the future of the Jewish people, of America and of Israel.

And so he reached out to governors and members of Congress, presidents and prime ministers to better his state, his country and our world – to improve all our lives. For Bubba Mitchell, life wasn’t only about him or his needs. It was about stepping beyond himself to something far greater. Bubba showed us that our actions can have meaning and our lives can be significant as long as we never shy away from speaking the truth or doing the right thing.

Bubba was a man of quiet courage.

Many in politics attempt to persuade with the belief that volume and bravado are the key to making a point. But Bubba understood that a few wise words, softly spoken, always trumped the loud chatter. Yes, he was quiet, his manner was all southern charm and understatement -- but he was doggedly determined to get results…

…and he was stunningly effective.

Bubba had the ear of presidents and prime ministers, and they too would seek him out for information, counsel and clarity. It is no surprise therefore, that in Bubba’s last days, President Bush, the Prime Minister of Israel, senators and members of Congress, and countless elected officials—many of whom are honored guests with us today -- called him to thank him for devoting his life’s work to his community, his country and our world. And it is no surprise that each of them thanked him for his unfailing friendship.

Bubba was a man of action.

He realized that we live in a time of miraculous promise, but also real danger for America, for Israel, and the Jewish people. He understood the stakes and the consequences if leadership was lacking.

When something needed to be done, he did it. And when something else needed to happen, he stepped forward yet again. And again and again. The cumulative effect of his life’s work was profound. Bubba built and sustained friendships with literally dozens and dozens of elected officials and decision makers that directly deepened the quality and strength of the relationship between Israel and the United States.

Bubba was a leader.

I had a conversation yesterday with a veteran member of the House of Representatives whom I had called to inform of Bubba’s passing. This member said something that I have been reflecting on ever since – something that says so much about who Bubba was to all of us. She said, “you know when I got into politics I had a simple goal – gain the respect of Bubba Mitchell. Because I knew that if I had his respect everyone else would follow.” The degree of respect that others had for Bubba can be measured in many ways. But the fact that over 25 current and former members of AIPAC’s national Board traveled from across the country to be here today is a remarkable tribute to his leadership.

It is very important to me that his 8 grandchildren hear what I have to say. You should know that for the last 25 years at AIPAC there was no higher praise -- and no greater reward -- than to have your grandfather tell me or one of my colleagues or one of our fellow Board members in that soft-spoken way of his -- that he was proud of us.

Last March Bubba wondered out loud in front of 6,000 friends if his life had had meaning – if he had made a difference. Well today we gather here to pay tribute – to celebrate the life of someone whose accomplishments are so many, so varied, and so valued that his legacy rises to something greater than mere difference making. Bubba’s difference deserves its own category – Bubba was a Jewish hero. Through his actions – through his courage, generosity, leadership, determination, and wisdom -- he came to define what it meant to be a Jewish leader in America in this century. He enriched all our lives -- he took care of his family, he made Alabama better, he made America stronger, and Israel safer.

As with so many others in this room, Bubba was my mentor, my teacher, my friend – my hero. How lucky I have been, how lucky we all have been -- to know and to love Bubba.

So Bubba, I think we can all answer your question now.

You made quite a difference.

Your memory will forever be a blessing. And we pledge to you that our continued work will be your lasting legacy.

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