Former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) died Friday after waging a long battle against the prostate cancer that prompted his retirement in 2013. I have no doubt that he would still be in the Senate today, absent the cancer.
Being a fellow Oklahoman and graduate of Oklahoma State University, I admit to having a particular interest in Coburn, but parochial considerations aside, I admired him immensely because he never succumbed to the temptations of fame and power that too often make Washington, D.C. what it is.
Coburn was first and forever a genuine man of the people, the real-life “Okie from Muskogee,” full of blunt courage, deep common-sense and immense admiration for the wisdom of America’s founders.
There was never any doubt about where this man stood on an important issue or worry that he would betray his principles. That is a priceless virtue in the nation’s capital and one that is far too rarely seen these days.
Coburn was a committed follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. His family said of his passing that, “Because of his strong faith, he rested in the hope found in John chapter 11 verse 25 where Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, will live, even though they die.’ Today he lives in heaven.”
The genuineness of his faith was seen in how Coburn treated his staff. Tears came to my eyes earlier this morning when I read these words from Keith Ashdown, who was Coburn’s staff director on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee:
“I was raised by a single mom. The closest thing I had to a father figure in my life passed away this morning,” Ashdown said in a tweet. “Senator Tom Coburn was a great lawmaker and even a better man. Working for him was one of the greatest honors of my life.”
And former long-time Coburn communications director John Hart’s tribute stirred my tears as well:
“His family came first and our hearts break for their loss. But those of us who had the joy and privilege of working with him were all his adopted sons and daughters. He made room in his heart for all of us and we kept in close touch with him until the end.
“He would always find time to challenge, encourage, correct and guide us. He touched us all deeply and gave us a gift that has blessed our lives and families beyond measure.”
One of the ways journalists covering Congress privately assess senators and representatives is by what their staffs say about them in candid, confidential moments. Coburn’s staff meant it when they expressed admiration for their boss, which was frequently. Coburn was so different from so many others we cover.
Count yourself blessed immensely if you ever have the opportunity to work on Capitol Hill — or anywhere else, for that matter —for a man like Tom Coburn.