The Sad Story Of The Best Legislative Farewell Speech Ever
We are in that time, the lame duck tradition of legislative farewells. In the days before term limits the farewells tended to be relatively few, reserved to those lawmakers who were retiring and the few who had been beaten. The speeches tended to be fond remembrances and encouragements to the fellow lawmakers. And those remaining would often praise those leaving. Emotions often ran high. Once, House Republican Leader Bill Bryant broke down while saying farewell to Democratic member George Montgomery.
Now, of course, thanks to the factory-like system of term limits, legislative leaders can schedule years in advance how many farewells will be needed and when lawmakers can make their speeches. And as the years have gone by, the speeches have tended to get longer as lawmakers tend to pour all they have learned in their short tenures into their last major oration.
But whose was the best farewell ever? Oh, without question the speech of former Senate Democratic leader William Faust in December 1994. It was the best. And in so many ways it was also the saddest.
Mr. Faust had been elected to the Senate in 1966, after owning several small newspapers in the Downriver area and serving in local government. He spent many years growing up in Lansing, where he said he played ping pong with a teenaged boy who would go on to be known to the world as Malcolm X.
In 1966, Mr. Faust was terribly injured in a car crash and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. In the late 1970s, he was elected the Senate majority leader, ably keeping in line a caucus of intense personalities. When two recalls in 1983 and subsequent special elections in 1984 put Republicans in charge of the chamber, he served as minority leader for several years, hoping to win back control of the chamber and resigning as leader when that effort failed.
He was passionate about Michigan’s state library. He played a key role in the restoration of the Capitol, saving some of the original glass panels from the Senate ceiling that were being hurled into dumpsters by workers.
And while he was always seen as an almost courtly gentleman, Mr. Faust could be tough. He led the Senate to reject some appointments by then Governor William Milliken. When Mr. Milliken told him that appointments were his domain, Mr. Faust snapped back the Senate could reject a nominee because they didn’t like the color of his tie.
Mr. Faust also knew the Constitution and law, and whenever there was a difference between legislators on the Constitution, he almost always won. In his last interview before he left office, he said the one piece of advice he would give a new lawmaker was to read the Constitution. Don’t they now, the reporter asked. No, he said.
So, what would you think Mr. Faust would say in his farewell address on the last session day of 1994, before he prepared to retire to a house he had retrofitted Up North? After 28 years, after seeing some of the most momentous legislative changes in state history, after serving as leader for a number of those years, what would someone like that say in farewell?
This is what he said, this is the entire farewell: “I want to thank the members for all the many courtesies they have shown me, and I want to thank the folks back home for 28 great years.”
There you have it. A total of 28 words expressing one salient thought: gratitude. Who can say more or better than that?
But while it was the best farewell speech ever, it was also possibly the saddest. That last day in session, Mr. Faust began to suffer chest pains. He was taken to the hospital, and never left. He had coronary bypass surgery and his gall bladder removed, but nearly 30 years in a wheelchair had left his system too weak to fight off infection. Bill Faust died on January 21, 1995.
And as grateful as he was, those who remember him know they were the ones who were truly grateful.Back to top