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Tribute To Richard Milanovich

Rep. Mary Bono Mack

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Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay respect to a dear friend and great leader who was taken from us far too soon, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Tribal Chairman Richard M. Milanovich.

For those who knew Richard, and for the countless others who did not but were touched by his impact on our community and nation, his passing leaves an enormous void. We shall greatly miss Richard's warmth, humor, humility, compassion and leadership. But most of all, we will miss the man: a beloved and caring leader whose dedication to his people was unmatched and never wavered.

Richard Milanovich's character, and also his vision for a more prosperous future for his people, were shaped by the experiences of his youth and the circumstances confronting the Agua Caliente during an era when the fortunes of the tribe he would come to lead for over a quarter of century were far more challenging and the future far more daunting. In his youth, he was profoundly influenced by the strong leadership of several remarkable women tribal council members, especially Chairman Viola Olinger and Vice Chairman LaVerne Saubel, who helped the Agua Caliente tribe reclaim control of its destiny and establish a model for future tribal land use agreements throughout our nation. Richard always felt a great connection to the Agua Caliente leaders who came before him, and the strength of his will and keen political insight were reflections of their determination and commitment to the tribe.

As tribal chairman, Richard Milanovich, earned the respect of not only his tribe but of all those who witnessed his tireless work ethic, sharp mind and gracious nature. He was revered throughout the nation as a tribal leader who achieved historic accomplishments that directly benefitted his people and numerous other tribes. He rose to become a legendary figure within Indian Country, and yet, he never lost his common touch and remained deeply grounded in the traditions and spiritual connection to the ancestral lands and heritage of his people.

Richard loved life and lived it to the fullest. Even when fighting his last great battle, he deflected concern for his condition and looked first to the welfare of others. I recall his last visit to my office in Washington on behalf of his tribe, only days after he had undergone one of the grueling treatments he endured to keep the cancer at bay, and how the strength of his spirit willed the body to soldier on. I suspect that his comportment during this painful and exhausting time was a reflection of his distinguished service in the U.S. Army; service that provided him with an opportunity to travel the world and experience other cultures and political institutions, and reinforced his fierce love of country.

Of course, one cannot speak of Richard without mentioning his love of family and friends. He was dedicated to his family, his wife Melissa and children Tammy, Travis, Scott, Trista, Sean and Reid, and he made friends wherever he went. Equally comfortable in jeans and boots or black tie, Richard instantly connected with people and was a much in demand guest at any social gathering--not merely due to his stature as a leader in our community but also for the good times that were sure to follow wherever he went. Witty and charming, he could disarm foes and captivate friends with a kind word or clever remark--all delivered with that trademark twinkle in his eye.

The legacy Richard leaves will not be measured simply by the number of hotels and casinos the tribe operates or the political battles he won on behalf of his people. Richard Milanovich's legacy will be measured by the impact his indomitable spirit had on the tribe he led, the community in which he lived, and the country he loved so deeply.

The Agua Caliente believe that the strength of their people is drawn from the sacred origins of the tribe in the mountains, canyons and desert in which they have resided for millennia. Richard Milanovich's spirit has passed from his physical body to reside with the spirits of the great tribal leaders who went before him. When I walk in the Indian Canyons of the Agua Caliente people, I shall feel strongly the spirit of my dear friend in the breeze on my face and the rustle of the wind in the palm fronds.

My deepest condolences go out to Richard's family, the Agua Caliente people and the many others who loved him. Richard will be deeply missed by us all, but he will also remain with us forever in our hearts and memories. Mr. Speaker, I urge all my colleagues to take a moment and join me in paying tribute to the memory of a truly great American and the late leader of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Chairman Richard Milanovich.