The End of a Long Career
On Friday, January 3, 1969, Dick Russell reached the height of his career when he was elected president pro tem of the U.S. Senate. He replaced Carl Hayden who had ended forty-one years in the upper chamber. Now Russell was that body's most senior member, having completed thirty-six years of service. As president pro tem, he was third in line of succession to the presidency. Besides presiding over the Senate, his new position provided some of the trappings of prestige. The most obvious sign of influence was the large black Lincoln Continental limousine in which Russell was chauffeured about town. Did he feel more powerful than he had earlier, Russell was asked. "Well," he replied, "I get that big automobile now," and the doorman at his apartment, who had previously paid little attention to him, was "really impressed." He called Floyd M. Riddick, the Senate parliamentarian, and said that he wanted to take the oath of office before the Senate convened the following Monday. When Riddick asked him why he was in such a hurry, Russell explained that he wanted to make sure that no one took his black limousine away from him! 1
In that elite club known as the U.S. Senate, no one was more admired or respected than Dick Russell. Many of his colleagues did not agree with him on issues, but they all had a genuine affection for this Georgia patrician. In a group that often acted like a mutual admiration society, fellow senators characteristically flattered and praised one another. But somehow Russell seemed special. He was held in great esteem for his fairness, integrity, wisdom, help to colleagues on special projects, and steadfastness in protecting the traditions of the Senate.
Respect and affection were one thing; power was something else. In writing about Russell, reporters and columnists often talked about his great power. In fact, however, he had passed the zenith of his ability to influence the course of national events several years earlier. By the late 1960s, he was so far out of tune with the main thrusts of American