A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

John Schickel: Sen. Jim Bunning was a force to be reckoned with, but also had a soft side

As your state senator, I attend many funerals of Northern Kentuckians. The recent funeral of former United States Senator and Big League Hall of Famer, Jim Bunning, had a profound effect on me.

Sen. Schickel

The funeral was held at the beautiful Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington. Northern Kentucky lost a great citizen when former United States Senator Jim Bunning passed away on May 26, 2017, at the age of 85.

Jim and his wife Mary were devoted parents to nine children and grandparents to 35 grandchildren and were great grandparents to 21.

I was lucky to have Jim Bunning as a mentor. He reminded me of my own father, who was also the father of a large family and a graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Senator Bunning graduated from Xavier. Like my own father, he did not mince words. When I switched parties from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party in 1996, he was one of the first to welcome me. Had it not been for Senator Jim Bunning’s recommendation in 2002, I would never have been appointed U.S. Marshal by President George W. Bush.

At 6’3”, Senator Bunning was someone to be reckoned with, both physically and mentally. He proved his prowess not only as a baseball pitcher but as a keen political player in the halls of Congress. He would be the first to tell you he was taught by his own parents and the Jesuits at Xavier University.

Senator Bunning was not the type you wanted to be around if you were thin-skinned. I will never forget the time my friend, now Boone County Clerk, Kenny Brown—who was at that time chairman of the Boone County Republican Party and who also, incidentally, walked to the County Clerk’s office with me and switched parties on the same day—and I were at a meeting with Senator Bunning when he first decided to run for the U.S. Senate. Kenny told the then-congressman that the Boone County GOP was ready to work hard for him and was well-organized. Bunning looked him straight in the eye and said, “It darn well better be.” We did not know what to say. It has been said that you have not lived until Jim Bunning chewed your ass.

Bunning (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

But Jim Bunning also had a soft side. I will never forget when I had a Christmas party the year before my dad died. Senator Bunning came and sat and talked to my dad for over 40 minutes even though by that time, my dad’s mind was failing. They had much in common with large families and a strong belief in their Catholic faith.

It has been said that you cannot fake good kids, and if you look at the children and grandchildren of Jim and Mary Bunning, you cannot help but be impressed. I am sure like any family they have had their problems, but all the children I have associated with have been nothing short of very impressive. Jim Bunning was one of a kind and I mean a good kind. You do not see many like him anymore and that is a shame. Someone who is willing to stand up for what is right no matter if it is politically correct or not; someone who does not mince words and you know exactly where he stands; and someone who has great faith in God, his country, and always puts his family first. I miss him.

As always, if you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me at 502-564-8100, Ext. 617, or visit my LRC webpage to submit a message. You can also follow me on Twitter at @SenatorSchickel. You can review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

Note:  Senator John Schickel (R-Union) represents the 11th District in Boone County. He serves as chairman of the Senate Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee; as well as a member of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee; Judiciary Committee; Natural Resources and Energy Committee; and the Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice and Judiciary.

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