INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Birch Bayh, a farm boy from Terre Haute, Indiana, who would ascend to legislative titan during three terms in the United States Senate as the author of two constitutional amendments and a bill that gave women equal opportunity in colleges and universities, died early Thursday morning of pneumonia, according to a statement from the family. He was 91.
Bayh, the father of two-term senator and Indiana governor Evan Bayh, was remembered by his son, colleagues and friends as a relentless champion of civil rights who left his imprint during the 1960s and 1970s on several pieces of landmark legislation.
He had a natural sympathy for the underdog and the downtrodden. So that’s why he always tried to champion opportunity and decency for people who are born without a lot of either,” Evan Bayh said. “My father was an extrovert who was devoted to his fellow citizens and trying to make their lives better – and he succeeded. And I can’t imagine a better legacy.”
Bayh grew up on a farm in Terre Haute and served four terms in the Indiana House of Representatives beginning in 1954 before successfully running for U.S. Senate in 1962 at age 34.
That year, the Democrat unseated 18-year incumbent Republican Homer Capehart. He would win re-election against William D. Ruckelshaus in 1968 and Richard Lugar in 1974. He lost his seat in 1980 to Dan Quayle.
In Bayh’s post-Senate life, he taught, practiced law and worked as a lobbyist. He was also involved in the still-ongoing effort to elect the president by popular vote, an outgrowth of his unsuccessful proposed constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College.
In 1976, Bayh sought the Democratic candidacy for president against Jimmy Carter and Morris Udall but dropped out after 4 ½ months following poor finishes in early primary states.
Our media partners with the IndyStar obtained a statement from his family:
Former United States Senator Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), author of the 25th and 26th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and author of Title IX of the Higher Education Act, and one of the last surviving leaders of a heroic age in American progressive politics, died shortly after midnight at his home in Easton, Md. He was 91. He was surrounded by family. The cause of death was pneumonia, his family said. He is survived by his wife, Katherine “Kitty” Bayh (née Halpin), and two sons: former Indiana senator and governor Birch Evans Bayh III, known as Evan, and Christopher J. Bayh, an attorney and partner at Barnes & Thornburg in Indianapolis. He leaves four grandchildren.
Sen. Todd Young called Bayh a “modern-day founding father” in a statement:
“Birch Bayh is a modern-day founding father. He used his tenure in the Senate to push for substantive and substantial change, including two constitutional amendments and the passage of Title IX. While we remember his legacy, my thoughts and prayers are with the entire Bayh family.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb released a statement about Bayh’s passing:
“Birch Bayh was a trailblazer who dedicated himself to improving the lives of all Hoosiers. His remarkable legislative and personal legacy transformed the country and will live on for years to come. I ask Hoosiers around the state to join me and Janet in honoring his incredible service and by keeping the Bayh family in your thoughts and prayers.”
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett also issued a statement:
“Birch Bayh was a tireless advocate for equality with the rare ability to transcend the prejudices of the moment and see beyond seemingly intractable divisions. He embodied what it means to be a Hoosier: kindness, compassion, common sense, and integrity. We, as a state and as a nation, are forever shaped by his leadership and tenacity.
“Today our community joins the Bayh family in mourning the passing of one of our country’s true civic giants.”
The Indiana Democratic Party also released a statement:
“Birch Bayh was driven by a belief in what we could accomplish given equal opportunity. That simple truth belies towering accomplishments. A United States Senator who twice amended the Constitution, father of Title IX, contributor to critical civil rights legislation. His legacy endures every day on college campuses. It endures in the form of equal opportunity, the right to vote and that all Americans deserve justice. He was a champion of Democratic values and was, in every way, a Hoosier. If you had the privilege of spending time with him when he was out helping Democratic candidates, he was always happy to share a story about his time in office. His public service is an example to all of us, and we will miss him very much. Thank you, Senator Bayh. You fought to make a difference, and you did – immeasurably.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) had this to say:
“Indiana has lost one of our most talented statesmen with the passing of Birch Bayh. His service in the Indiana General Assembly and U.S. Congress earned him a national reputation for being a thoughtful and dedicated public servant. I join all Hoosiers in remembering his contributions to our state and nation, and am keeping the Bayh family in my thoughts and prayers.”