Here is what you probably already knew about the late Sen. Daniel Inouye:
He was a war hero whose right arm was amputated without proper anesthesia after he was shot multiple times on an Italian battlefield in World War II.
He investigated the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, and led the congressional probe of the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s. He was a Democrat, and earned a reputation — plus notoriety among Republicans — for earmarking enormous sums of federal funding to his home state of Hawaii.
The people of Hawaii loved him. And I mean really, really loved him. For 53 years, he represented them in Congress. He once polled more favorably than God. Really.
Inouye was first elected in 1959, the year Hawaii became a state. He had planned to run for re-election in 2016.
The week before my first day as a Capitol Hill reporter, just days after I moved from Honolulu to Washington, D.C., Inouye’s staff members welcomed me by offering a tour around the U.S. Capitol. The senator wanted to meet in his favorite office — not the ornate tall-ceilinged space he used in his role as pro tempore, the most senior member of the U.S. Senate, but in a walk-in closet-sized room within another office.
It’s where he kept a framed painting of yellow daffodils that former Sen. Ted Kennedy, the Democratic juggernaut from Massachusetts, painted for him. On another wall was a letter he wrote to his parents during World War II. Elsewhere, a reminder of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, the Republican whom Inouye often referred to as his brother.
Despite the stoic dignity with which he carried himself, Inouye’s impish side was always just beneath the surface. He had a habit of breaking the awed hush that filled a room when he entered with a joke, the way a standup comedian works a crowd. His sometimes-mischievous sense of humor had a way of making his public relations team nervous at times.
He complained on occasion about having to wear a suit and tie every day. I once tried to convince his press team to grant me a weekend interview with the senator. “He’ll be watching samurai movies in his pajamas,” a spokesman said. Last year, he rooted for the Giants in the Super Bowl. He told me the next morning that he spent the game munching on chicken wings and spare ribs.
Back in Hawaii, he often said his favorite restaurant was Zippy’s, a popular diner-style chain. After flights back home from Washington, it was often his first stop off the plane.
But Inouye also had a tradition of taking his wife to the upscale Honolulu restaurant La Mer every April on the anniversary of his war injury. Before he was deployed, Inouye had planned to become a doctor. But after decades in elected office, he said he couldn’t picture himself doing anything else.
I asked him once what his life might have been like if things turned out differently. “It would have been terrible and dull,” he said.
It’s hard to imagine never again hearing Inouye’s slow, deep cadence; a voice so familiar to the people of Hawaii. He sounded always deliberate, the way men spoke in another time — back when they always wore hats and, as Inouye often reminisced, when Democrats and Republicans still worked together.
But Inouye didn’t just romanticize those days. When he first arrived in Washington, congressional culture was still racially segregated. Inouye helped change that. He told me the story of a black congressman who always disappeared around lunchtime, not daring to disrupt the whites-only dining room.
“I grabbed him: ‘We’re going to go down there,’” Inouye said in 2011. “We desegregated that place.”
Though he spent decades in Washington, D.C., it was clear that he still saw himself as Danny, the boy with humble beginnings in Hawaii.
One rainy Saturday afternoon in Washington, as I leafed through the decades-old papers that former Hawaii Rep. Patsy Mink left to the Library of Congress, I came across something I’d never seen before: A campaign document from Inouye’s 1959 run for Congress. He was 34.
The pamphlet said “campaign instructions,” and outlined his code-of-conduct standards: Never “chop” the opposing candidates; never conduct a negative campaign; Remember our opponents are worthy candidates; Be positive. Most importantly: “It is better to lose a clean campaign than to win a dirty one.”
After his death, the senator’s office posted this statement: “When asked in recent days how he wanted to be remembered, Dan said, very simply, ‘I represented the people of Hawaii and this nation honestly and to the best of my ability. I think I did OK.’”
His last words: “Aloha.”