Dole returned to civilian life driven and determined to make up for lost time and for his lost physical integrity. That determination has never left Dole, even though he still has trouble buttoning his shirt and tying his tie every day. Never a dedicated scholar before his injury (a "C" student, he says), Dole returned to college vowing to excel in academics. "The only thing I have left is my head," he told his brother, Kenny, "so I'd better use it." Phyllis Holden, his first wife, a physiotherapist he met at a veterans hospital in Battle Creek, Mich., did much of his writing and note-taking until he learned to write lefthanded.
On the G.I. Bill, Dole attended the University of Arizona in Tucson. (Doctors thought the temperate climate would help his recovery, and, according to Dole's archivist Bryan Colt, schools in Kansas lacked the sophisticated blood transfusion labs Dole needed for his blood clots). Dole studied liberal arts for a year in Arizona and enjoyed hiking in the hills around Tucson. But he soon decided that he wanted to return to Kansas to study law. Dole's first choice was the University of Kansas in Lawrence, but the school still lacked the sophisticated lab needed for his ongoing blood analysis. Washburn Muncipal College (now Washburn University) in Topeka had the medical facilities Dole needed, and he enrolled in the fall of 1949 to pursue a bachelor's degree and a law degree simultaneously.
In 1950, the law librarian at Washburn, Beth Bowers, a Democrat, asked Dole and three of his classmates to consider political careers. Dole considered -- his parents were Democrats, but both parties, knowing that veterans made good candidates, tried to win his political allegiance. John Woelk, a Republican leader and the Russell County Attorney, who had been in the state Senate, told Dole, "If you really want to do something in politics in Kansas, you'd better declare yourself a Republican." In Russell County, registered Republicans outnumbered registered Democrats two to one. Dole filed to run for state representative as a Republican. He won and his life as a partisan Republican had begun.
After law school (and after serving one term as state representative), Dole went to work for Eric E. "Doc" Smith, an oil and gas lawyer in Russell, and ran for county prosecutor. He was elected county prosecutor four straight times. Though he was considered the hardest working county prosecutor Russell had ever seen, he still managed to maintain a full private practice and campaign for the Republican party.
In 1954 Dole had his only child, a daughter, Robin. He worked every night until 10 and every weekend throughout his marriage, and this eventually took its toll. In 1971, after 23 years of marriage, Dole abruptly told his wife, "I want out." She did not argue, saying later that "you don't do that with Bob Dole," and she received no child support to raise Robin. 1987, Phyllis told Vanity Fair, "He has a lot more feeling inside than he ever will let anybody know."
After one term as state representative in the Kansas legislature and four terms as Russell county attorney, Dole ran for Congress in 1960 and won. He served four terms in the House before running for Senate in 1968.
In 1973 Elizabeth Hanford came into his office to discuss education for the handicapped. Dole called her three times before actually asking her out on a date, and he kept up the courtship during his 1974 re-election campaign, when he asked her if it would be all right for him to call late at night as something to look forward to. She agreed. In 1975 they married and moved into Dole's apartment at the Watergate Hotel (bought by Dole after he divorced his first wife).
Bob Dole was re-elected to the Senate in 1980, 1986 and 1992.
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