Sen. Sherrod Brown: Don Kindt was a personal hero to many


Sen. Sherrod Brown: Don Kindt was a personal hero to many

Mansfield News Journal – The phone rang in my college dorm room in January 1974. It was my mother calling.

“Don Kindt wants to talk to you,” she said. “He asked for your phone number. He wants you to run for state representative.”

My dad chimed in from the phone in the upstairs bedroom: “You’re too young. I wouldn’t vote for you.”

Don Kindt did not agree.

To Don, serving the public transcended age, occupation or position. From his days as a war hero — a term he never used to describe himself — to personnel director at the Ohio Department of Transportation, to U.S. marshal, and then as assistant secretary of state, Don always believed in public service, in the best sense of the term.

Don was badly injured in the Korean War. He was awarded two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and the Combat Infantryman Badge. Don also lost his left eye; he wore a glass replacement for the rest of his life. Don never complained about his sacrifice, or even talked much about it. Instead, he called himself “one of the luckiest men in the luckiest generation.”

Never one to take himself too seriously, Don made light of his injuries. During the 1976 campaign season, Don and I attended a breakfast with presidential hopeful Mo Udall, who also had one eye. Inspired by the Arizona representative’s longshot bid for the Democratic nomination against Jimmy Carter, Don quipped that he was going to co-chair a “One-Eyed Soldiers Committee to Elect Mo Udall.”

As Richland County Democratic Chairman, Don Kindt expected much from all of us. If you were one of his candidates, you had to earn his support. If you were not willing to serve the public with courage and conviction, Don had little use for you.

As enthusiastic as he was about public service, Don had an even greater passion for his family. He married the wonderful LaVerne Bunsey upon returning home from war, and they had six children. Don’s heart expanded with the birth of each grandchild. And how he talked about all of them. Endlessly, and with a look of utter joy.

Not only am I indebted to Don for much of my career, but my brothers Bob and Charlie and I are so thankful for the kindness he showed to our mother Emily — throughout her life, but particularly while she was sick. He was a steadfast friend — the kind who celebrated your successes and showed up at your door during the hardest of times.

Don was legendary for his colorful language. Everyone knew about his propensity for salty language. What everyone didn’t know was that his gruff nature masked an idealism and respect for public service. His passion for working America was as strong as his language.

Don believed that all hard-working Americans should be able to provide for their families. This guided his work and was embodied in the empathy he showed for those with less privilege.

On Saturday, our country lost a great American. Don was a war hero to everyone and a personal hero to so many of us.

As for me, I’ve lost a mentor and a friend.

I look back on my own career, and one thing is certain. I wouldn’t be in the U.S. Senate if it wasn’t for Don Kindt.

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