Former Connecticut Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. is remembered as a maverick unconstrained by politics

Jul 10, 2023, 10:42 AM

FILE - Connecticut Gov. Lowell Weicker testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Budget Committee on May 13, 1992, in Washington, DC. Weicker, a Republican U.S. senator who tussled with his own party during the Watergate hearings, championed legislation to protect people with disabilities and later was elected Connecticut governor as an independent, died Wednesday, June 28, 2023, at a hospital in Middletown, Conn., after a short illness. He was 92. (AP Photo/John Duricka, File)

(AP Photo/John Duricka, File)

Lowell P. Weicker Jr., a towering figure in Connecticut politics who rose to national prominence for taking on his party during the Watergate hearings as a junior Republican senator, was remembered Monday as a politician from a bygone era, unshackled by partisanship.

During more than 30 years in public office, Weicker fought for AIDS funding, clean air and water, medical research, protecting people with disabilities and those marginalized in society. He served in the Connecticut General Assembly, the U.S. House of Representatives and later as Connecticut’s first independent governor. He died June 28 at age 92, following a short illness.

His funeral in Greenwich, Connecticut, a town where he was once the first selectman, drew family, friends and politicians from both parties. They recalled his maverick political style being guided by an internal moral compass to do what he thought was right for Connecticut and the nation.

“He loved to challenge convention every day and we’re better for,” said Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, a personal friend of Weicker and his wife Claudia, who delivered a eulogy peppered with moments of humor.

“Opinionated? Yep. Absolutely,” Lamont said. “Inverse of that, maybe, is also highly principled. He was 100% certain that he was absolutely right 100% of the time. He usually was. And you know what? When he wasn’t, he was willing to change his mind.”

Connecticut voters have had strong opinions about Weicker over the years. As a one-term governor, he pushed through a highly contentious tax on personal income when the state faced major fiscal problems, despite initially opposing it. An estimated 40,000 protesters packed the state Capitol grounds in Hartford on Oct. 5, 1991, demanding lawmakers “ax the tax.” Some hanged him in effigy. But Weicker still decided to walk through the crowd.

“Lowell Weicker was never afraid to make hard choices and to fight for what he believed in,” said Stanley Twardy, who worked with Weicker when he was a senator and governor.

Despite his imposing persona and physique – he was roughly 6-foot, 6-inches tall – Weicker was remembered by his family as “Pop,” a doting grandfather who made pancakes for his granddaughter and inspired his grandson to scuba dive. While always competitive, he was also kind and cared about others, said his son, Scot Weicker, one of seven children.

The younger Weicker recalled playing doubles tennis against his father one day and rupturing his Achilles tendon on a shot.

“He came over to the net and looked down at me and said, ‘Just so you know, we won the point,'” Scot Weicker told those gathered, who erupted in laughter. After Scot Weicker agreed on the score, the elder Weicker’s demeanor changed and he asked his son if he was OK.

“This was when the other side of dad kicked in. He was at his absolute best when someone needed help,” Scot Weicker said. “He was a man who would go to any lengths to help those in need.”

After Lowell Weicker’s death, Democratic President Joe Biden said he was “proud to call him a friend,” describing him as “blunt, brave, committed to his convictions and fiercely independent.” The two served together in the Senate for nearly two decades.

Former Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd served in Congress for 14 years with Weicker, including eight as Connecticut’s two senators. He lauded Weicker for going out of his way to help him learn the “obscure traditions” of the U.S. Senate, noting that the two ended up becoming good friends.

“We always reached across the aisle together, Lowell and I did, and worked for the betterment of the state of Connecticut and our country. We didn’t always agree, but Lowell never took a cheap shot,” Dodd said. “We both believed that we had an obligation to keep our state’s best interests at heart. The U.S. Senate in those days was nothing like it is today. And in my view, as a country, they’re worse for it.”

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Former Connecticut Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. is remembered as a maverick unconstrained by politics