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Remembering Casey Ribicoff

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman

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Mr. President, last year we were all saddened to learn of the passing of Casey Ribicoff, a remarkable woman and the wife of former Connecticut Senator Abe Ribicoff. In honor of Mrs. Ribicoff, I would like to have printed in the Record the moving tributes that were given at her funeral by some of those who knew her best.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

Thirteen years ago, I stood in this same spot to say goodbye and pay tribute to my friend and political mentor, Senator Abe Ribicoff. Peter, I am deeply honored that you asked me to share some brief comments this morning to celebrate the life of one of the smartest, most generous, elegant, funny, and downright fascinating people any of us ever met--Abe's beloved partner, Casey. I first met Casey Ribicoff in 1974, during my first run for Congress in Connecticut. Senator Abe Ribicoff was himself up for re-election that year and he invited me to campaign with him in New London. I was excited. The former Judge, Congressman, Governor, Cabinet Member, and Senator, was a larger-than-life figure in Connecticut, and had been an influential force in American politics for the previous 30 years. My parents, who were deceased by 1974, had been friends and colleagues of Abe Ribicoff's for many, many years, and I had been in his presence on numerous occasions. Now, there were many appropriate adjectives to describe the Senator--able, thoughtful, perceptive, conscientious, courageous, and eloquent, to name a few. Funny, fun-loving, joyous--how shall I say this--were not exactly the words that jumped out to you when you thought of the Senator. Abe Ribicoff was a very serious guy. So, on that fall day in 1974 when I first met Casey, right away, I knew this woman was different--a vibrant, vital force in any room. But on that day in 1974, something else was different--Abe Ribicoff was different. Different than I had ever seen him before. On that day, so many years ago, it was wonderful to see the effect this striking vivacious woman had on Abe Ribicoff. I remember how much he laughed that day. In all the years I had known him, I had never seen Abe Ribicoff have as much fun as he was having with his lively Casey. What a difference she made in his life. That year, 1974, Abe Ribicoff was running for what he and Casey knew would be his last term in the United States Senate. I would wager that those last six years were among the most enjoyable in their lives together. Casey and Abe traveled widely, while deepening friendships with people Casey brought into Abe's life and people with whom Abe had developed a strong relationship in his public life. When that last term was up in 1980, Abe was so gracious to give the nominating speech for me to succeed him in the United States Senate. Standing there with Casey, in the Bushnell Auditorium in Hartford, Connecticut, listening to Abe's speech, I felt her warm hand reach down to hold mine. Without uttering a word, Casey instinctively knew how much I missed my own parents on that very special day. Now, as touching and sensitive as Casey was, she also had a glorious sense of humor. Several weeks after that nominating convention, I was with the Senator and Casey. I remember the Senator saying to me, ``Chris, I'll do anything I can to help you win election to the Senate.'' Excitedly, I replied, ``Well, Senator, Monday morning at 6 am, I'm shaking hands at the Greenwich railroad station-- would you care to join me greeting commuters?'' To which Casey, in a nanosecond, interjected, ``If Abe was willing to do that, young man, he would have run again himself.'' Abe roared with laughter. More than thirty years later, I still start smiling when I recall that moment. And, by the way, having just recently retired from electoral politics, I now fully understand her comment. But that was Casey: warm, funny and feisty. After Abe retired, as so many of you gathered here this morning will recall, he and Casey lived in Manhattan and their cherished retreat in Cornwall Bridge, where they enjoyed so many wonderful friends and times. But they weren't strangers to Washington either. Abe and Casey would come down every now and then--not to lobby, but to see old friends. Abe never once walked onto the Senate floor after he retired in 1980. Instead, he and Casey would have lunch in the Senate dining room, where a stream of his former colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, would gather to reminisce, and spend time. Casey Ribicoff was as loyal and supportive a friend as you could ever have. And if you were her friend, as so many of you were, everything about your life was ``the best.'' Every new job you got was ``the best.'' Every accomplishment you achieved was ``the best.'' There is nothing quite like having such an enthusiastic friend. Now, I don't want to say that Casey was a gossip. So I'll just say that Casey Ribicoff liked to know what was going on--never in a cruel way, but always with a sense of fun and curiosity. She knew someone in every room, and always found a moment to sidle up and say, in that low, melodious voice of hers, ``Sooooooo?'' For those few here who may not have known Casey, let me translate that word: ``tell me everything that's going on.'' For those of us who have faith in life beyond this one, I can easily imagine her deeply engaged in conversation, not just with the bright lights of her own time, but with the great personalities of centuries past. I keep imagining Casey and Oscar Wilde getting along famously. I called Casey a week or two before she passed away. I wanted to speak with her in my new capacity as chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America to get some advice. I had this idea. With this year being the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth, there were political tributes to his life and career, but it struck me that more than half of the President's adult life was spent in the movie business, at Warner Brothers--and the Motion Picture business might want to recognize the President's years in the movies. I wanted to write Mrs. Reagan to see how she'd feel about such an event to be held at the Motion Picture Association offices in Washington. But I was smart enough to call Casey first. I knew that Casey and Nancy Reagan had developed a great friendship due to the fact that both of their husbands had suffered from Alzheimer's. I knew that if Casey thought that such an event honoring President Reagan was a good idea, she would share that with Mrs. Reagan. And Casey, in that unforgettable voice, immediately and enthusiastically said, ``I'll talk to Nancy.'' And she did. On November 14th, we are going to have an evening of recognition for President Reagan, and how I wish that Casey Ribicoff were going to be there. Allow me to conclude these remarks on this note: it is a common refrain these days that we don't have enough leaders like Abe Ribicoff in Washington. I think part of the reason for that is that we don't have enough people like Casey Ribicoff in Washington these days either. Our politics has lost a lot of its civility, because our political community has lost so much of its humanity. Casey Ribicoff had an abundance of both. She brought intelligence, laughter, warmth and enthusiasm, not just to Abe's life, but to his and her world. And she did it with a natural grace and timeless elegance. To her sister June and nephew, son Peter, her daughter-in- law, Angela, and her grandchildren--my former Senate Page Andrew, Jake, and Jessica--I offer my deepest condolences and my deepest appreciation for the many gifts Casey Ribicoff gave to so many others in her life.