Former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, one of Terre Haute's most famous native sons and author of two amendments to the U.S. Constitution, died early Thursday morning at the age of 91.
He died shortly after midnight, surrounded by family at his home in Easton, Md., the family said. Cause of death was pneumonia.
The three-term, Democratic U.S. senator was the author of the 25th Amendment, which established presidential succession, and the 26th Amendment, which set the voting age at 18.
A strong advocate for women's rights, he also was the the author of Title IX, which in 1972 for the first time prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in the classroom and on the athletic field.
Bayh was a leading supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, which fell just short of ratification
He also led an effort in 1969-70 for an amendment that would have made the popular vote, not the Electoral College, the deciding mechanism by which the president is elected. The measure easily cleared the House, and it was thought to be only a handful of votes short in the Senate. But, as Bayh noted, it never was called to the Senate floor for a full vote.
Bayh was the father of former Indiana governor and former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh.
"Birch Bayh was a trailblazer who dedicated himself to improving the lives of all Hoosiers," Gov. Eric Holcomb said in a statement Thursday morning. "His remarkable legislative and personal legacy transformed the country and will live on for years to come. I ask Hoosiers around the state to join me and Janet in honoring his incredible service and by keeping the Bayh family in your thoughts and prayers."
ISU president Deborah Curtis said, "The Indiana State family mourns the loss of this incredible leader. Senator Bayh and his late wife, Marvella, took classes at Indiana State in the 1950s and are part of a family connection to the university that spans more than a century. We are proud that our renowned College of Education carries the Bayh name and stands as a permanent tribute to this legacy and Birch Bayh's distinguished career."
Bayh was preceded in death by his first wife, Marvella Hern Bayh. She died of breast cancer in 1979. He married Katherine "Kitty" Halpin in 1981. She survives, as do his sons Evan (Birch Evan Bayh III) and Christopher J. Bayh, an attorney and partner at Barnes & Thornburg in Indianapolis, as well as four grandchildren.
Young, rising star
Born in Terre Haute, Birch Bayh also spent time on his grandparents' farm in Shirkieville, where he later lived. He went to high school in New Goshen and served in the post-World War II U.S. Army in Germany. An athlete, Bayh was a Golden Gloves boxer and twice tried out for Major League Baseball teams.
While farming, he took classes at ISU and eventually graduated from Purdue University with a degree in agriculture. He later earned a law degree from Indiana University.
He was elected to the Indiana House at the age of 26 and later became, at the time, the youngest speaker of the Indiana House.
At the age of 36, he defeated three-term incumbent U.S. Sen. Homer E. Capehart of Washington in the 1962 midterm election.
Bayh would be re-elected to the Senate in 1968 (defeating William D. Ruckelshaus) and in '74 (defeating Richard Lugar). Bayh was defeated in his bid for a fourth term in 1980 by then-U.S. Rep. Dan Quayle.
Bayh sought his party's nomination for president in 1976, withdrawing in early March.
'Hoosier farm boy'
Fred Nation served as Bayh's press secretary from November 1979 through December 1980, the first half as his Washington spokesman and the last half for his senate re-election campaign.
While Nation served as editor of the Terre Haute Spectator from 1974-79, he wrote stories about Bayh and even went to Iowa to cover the primary when Bayh sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976. "I got to know him pretty well," Nation said. He was the quintessential Hoosier farm boy. He had that 'aw shucks' manner about him."
While Bayh is well known for authoring the 25th and 26th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, he told Nation his proudest legislative accomplishment dealt with school re-organization while he served in the Indiana Legislature.
The Indiana School Reorganization Act of 1959 called for each county to develop and implement a reorganization plan. It was passed soon after Sputnik, when the Soviet Union launched the first artificial Earth satellite.
"There was great concern about the U.S. educational system," Nation said. "He [Bayh] knew that to compete, high school students needed more science, math and resources than a 100-pupil high school could give."
But Bayh also was proud of his work on Title IX, which for the first time prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in the classroom and on the athletic field. Bayh authored the federal legislation.
He pursued it because his wife, Marvella, had been denied admission to the University of Virginia based on her sex. "He thought that was wrong," Nation said.
Describing Bayh, Nation said he could "connect with anyone, whether they liked him or not. He reveled in campaigning and meeting people." In his campaigns, he used to go to an industrial plant's gates at shift change to shake hands.
Describing Bayh's legacy, Nation referred to a book, The Last Great Senate, which focused on senators from the 1960s and '70s and all that they accomplished. "Birch Bayh was one of those. He was one of the giants of his time in the Senate" with his accomplishments that included two Constitutional amendments, Title IX and his efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
"He was involved in the big issues of the time, including civil rights," Nation said. "He had an unusual ability to make friends, not only across the aisle, but also within a Democratic Party that was so much different then ... He was able to work with them in getting support for key legislation."
'Rock solid integrity'
Retired Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton remembers Bayh as a great friend and master legislator who brought a new energy and an inclusive style to political campaigns.
The two Democrats' terms overlapped by 16 years, from 1965 to '81.
"He probably wrote more of the Constitution than any legislator since James Madison,” Hamilton said. “He was very inclusive in his way of approaching people. I don't think he had any sentiments of any kind of bigotry. He respected all people and was willing to work with all.”
The liberal Bayh was good friends with conservative Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, for example.
“He was a consummate networker. He was challenged by anybody who disagreed with him. He didn't attack that person, he tried to convert them,” Hamilton said. “Birch had rock solid integrity. He didn't play poltical games with people; he didn't try to pull the wool over your eyes. He was very straightforward.”
The friendship between Bayh and Hamilton began in their college days when they were president of their respective Alpha Tau Omega fraternity chapters — Hamilton at DePauw University and Bayh at Purdue.
“The fraternity was all white and we wanted to break the racial barriers down,” Hamilton said. “I don't know that we could claim total victory there, but we made progress.”
Nancy Papas worked as a summer intern in Bayh’s Washington office in 1965 before becoming a staffer in '67. At Butler, she studied Constitutional law which meshed well with Bayh’s chairmanship of the Constitutional Amendments Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee.
“One of my first days in the office, the legislative director told me not to do anything that I wouldn’t want to see splashed across the front age headlines of the newspaper," she said. "He said we were there to serve Hoosiers and the nation and not ourselves. I took that to heart.”
That judiciary role put Bayh in the forefront of federal court cases on school prayer, abortion, Vietnam protest rights and others.
“But he was always respectful of others’ opinions and had a keen sense of how to frame issues so that people could see multiple perspectives. In that respect, he was a teacher and a leader,” Papas recalled. “I was surprised and thrilled to see that the office manager was a woman. So was the person in charge of the Senator’s schedule as well as the person who was my immediate supervisor in the legislative department.
“Wow — my father and mother had always told me women could do anything, but I’d had my doubts. Birch Bayh’s example made me a believer. So his sponsorship of the Equal Rights Amendment and Title IX seemed a natural thing for him to do.”
Sue Loughlin and Dave Taylor write for the Terre Haute Tribune Star.
Out of respect
Gov. Eric J. Holcomb is directing flags across the state be flown at half-staff to honor former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh.
Flags should be flown at half-staff from now until sunset on the day of his funeral, which has not yet been announced.
Holcomb also asks businesses and residents to lower their flags to half-staff to honor Bayh.