Former Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana died earlier this month at the age of 91.
To list his achievements, the New York Times had to run a full-page obituary. Among them, he was the architect of two constitutional amendments: the 25th Amendment which set out the rules for the temporary replacement of a president or vice president, and the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18. He championed Title IX legislation, the landmark federal law which barred sex discrimination at schools and colleges
Since 1788 when the Constitution was ratified, more than 11,000 amendments have been proposed. Only 27 have been ratified and only two people in American history managed to write legislation that led to the ratification of more than one of them. One was James Madison, the father of the Constitution, who drafted and pushed through the first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights. The other was Bayh.
I met Bayh in 1970 at the Inter-Parliamentary Congress in Monaco on the French Riviera. He was one of the leaders of the American Congressional delegation. As the foreign news editor of the Hungarian Daily in Cleveland, Ohio, I was accredited to the Congress.
Bayh, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Sub-Committee on the Constitution, acquired the reputation as a legislator who gets things done. While in Monaco, I introduced him to Emery Reves, my mentor and author of the seminal work, “The Anatomy of Peace,” a book that Albert Einstein called the answer on how to safeguard the world from a nuclear holocaust.
At a lavish dinner, the two of them agreed that Bayh, at one of the meetings of the Inter-Parliamentary Congress, would recommend passing a resolution supporting ideas advocated by Reves.
But he never had the opportunity to do so.
President Nixon nominated Clement F. Hayworth and G. Harold Carswell to the Supreme Court., and both were unacceptable to the Democratic-controlled Senate. Bayh returned to Washington to mobilize opposition to the nomination. He succeeded in forcing the withdrawal of both nominations.
He left his wife, Marvella, in our care, and my wife and I became her escorts. I recall, while sitting next to her during a meeting of the Congress, which was presided over by Prince Rainier of Monaco, Marvella gasped, “Did you see it?”
The Prince had fallen asleep and his wife, Grace Kelly, the former actress, sitting next to him, poked him to wake him up.
Marvella also returned to the states earlier than she had planned. After her mother died, her father remarried, became an alcoholic and killed her stepmother and then himself. Marvella needed emotional support and we were there to provide it.
In the ensuing years, our friendship grew. We were among the first ones to whom she confided she had breast cancer. An illness such as that, at that time, was a closely held secret among public figures. Later, Marvella became a special representative for the American Cancer Society. She spread a message of hope that cancer victims can continue to live normal lives with treatment.
In the early 1970s, Bayh started his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. I became an informal advisor on how to appeal to voters of Hungarian descent in the pivotal state of Ohio.
I remember Bayh telling me, “I always pay great attention to letters written to me by voters. I know they represent the voice of hundreds of other voters who don’t write letters.”
In 1972, Bayh dropped his campaign for the nomination to be with his wife during her recovery from surgery. She died in 1979 at the age of 46.
With the approval of their son, Evan Bayh, the former two-term governor and senator of Indiana, I have donated my voluminous correspondence with the Bayhs to the Special Collection at William and Mary’s Swem Library.
Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.