WASHINGTON – Former Sen. Alan Simpson drew laughter from the gathered dignitaries Wednesday as he remembered some of the lighter moments from the time he spent over the years with his friend George H.W. Bush in his address at the former president's funeral in Washington.
Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, served three terms in the Senate from 1979 to 1997 and was rumored to be on Bush's short list of vice presidential candidates in 1988.
"Humor is the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life," Simpson said Wednesday. It was a phrase his mother often repeated, he told biographer Donald Loren Hardy in the 2011 book, "Shooting from the Lip: From the Life of Senator Alan Simpson."
He said that while Bush loved a good joke, "he could never, ever remember a punchline. And I mean never."
Simpson dropped a few one-liners during his eulogy for his friend, including: "He was a man of such great humility. Those who traveled the high road of humility in Washington D.C. are not bothered by heavy traffic."
As a senator, Simpson became known for his jokes and colorful phrasing. In a 2006 lecture, he explained why he thought humor was so important and how it could be a useful tool to deal with tragedy, friends and sometimes opponents.
"Comedian Danny Kaye once said that all humor comes from pain," he explained. He said former Sen. Ted Kennedy's sense of humor helped him deal with the tragedies that struck his family.
"Imagine what his life would be like without laughter," he said of Kennedy, a close friend.
"I'm terrible when I lose my sense of humor," he said. As an example, he mentioned his testy questioning of Anita Hill at a hearing in 1991 about her sexual harassment accusations against Clarence Thomas during his Supreme Court nomination.
And Simpson explained that "humor can be used to throw off the opposition."
"People think if you have humor you're not serious," he said.
As his long friendship with Kennedy indicates, Simpson did not let political differences become personal and, a moderate on the issue of abortion rights, he rejected rigid political ideology. He said Bush was of the same mind.
"He often said when the really tough choices come, it’s the country, not me – it’s not about Democrats or Republicans, it’s for our country that I fought for," Simpson said.
Simpson told The Washington Post that Bush asked him to write his eulogy after Bush was hospitalized in 2012. Simpson said he made some notes and put off the assignment. When the time came, he said he reflected on their time together.
"You just delve in on the things that mean something to you deeply and personally, and try to keep it light," he told the Post.
"You cry while you’re preparing it," Simpson said, "so you won’t cry while you’re giving it."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Humor was always at the center of Sen. Alan Simpson's life, and he brought it to Bush's eulogy