Barnyard didn’t phase dapper senator

If ever there was an elegant man, it was Sen. Peter Dominick.

The word “patrician” could have been invented to describe the two-term Republican senator from Colorado, who served from 1962 through 1974.

He wasn’t conventionally handsome, but he was tall enough and slender, with an amazing mane of silver hair. It all added up to an aura that made especially the Republican ladies giggle and twitter when he smiled at them.

Born in the affluent suburb of Stamford, Conn., Dominick graduated from St. Mark’s Prep School, Yale University and Yale Law School. Briefly a lawyer in New York, he moved to Denver in 1946 to open a law practice. He went on to become a Colorado state representative and senator, then a two-term U. S. representative and senator.

As a U.S. senator, Dominick visited western Colorado regularly, and, while the press always interviewed him, it seemed redundant to use his picture on every occasion. That feeling, communicated to Dominick’s staff, led to the pig-farm incident.

The late James Robb, a Grand Junction lawyer and former member of Dominick’s Washington staff, was heading the senator’s Mesa County campaign in 1974. He called The Daily Sentinel to announce that Dominick’s major appearance in Mesa County would be at a Lower Valley pig farm.

It was a picture idea nobody could ignore — impeccably dressed and groomed Dominick, seated on a bale of hay greeting rural folks, at a rural setting with pigs and other farm animals in the background. In the picture taken by Daily Sentinel photographer Bob Grant, even a jaded reporter had to admit that Dominick looked remarkably at ease, despite what seemed an absurd background.

Later, I teasingly accused Robb of setting up a picture opportunity we both knew newspapers and television wouldn’t ignore. Robb, who had an innate sense of good publicity, did the lawyerly thing. He grinned but admitted nothing, insisting that Dominick had asked to visit Lower Valley constituents, and some residents had simply made their farm available.

Dominick was pretty sharp about handling public relations himself. Once, when I was slated to interview him, I wore a favorite blue dress. When he said he liked the dress, I was flattered. The next time I interviewed him, I once more wore blue, and he again commented on what I was wearing.

The two incidents led to a standing joke around the Sentinel office. When I knew I would be interviewing Dominick the next day, I would always say to Marion Fletcher, the long-time secretary to Walter Walker and Preston Walker, “I think I’ll wear my blue. Pete likes me in blue.”

Despite Dominick’s popularity with Republicans, the stigma of Watergate and Richard Nixon’s resignation as president loomed over the 1974 national election, and it was a Democratic year in the U.S. Senate. Dominick was defeated by Gary Hart, another Denver lawyer, who joined incumbent Democratic Floyd Haskell as Colorado’s Senate delegation in Washington.

After Dominick’s defeat, he was named ambassador to Switzerland by President Gerald Ford in early 1975. He resigned after only a few months, announcing that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

As I remember, it was the 1980 Republican convention in Denver where Dominick made his last public-speaking appearance. I saw him sitting behind the stage, waiting to give the keynote address — a lonely figure in a wheelchair, his hair now snowy white, his face paled and somewhat degraded by his illness. But he was still dapper. When he came onstage and began to speak, it wasn’t easy to discern what he was saying because his speech was slurred. But the crowd loved him anyway, clapping long and hard.

Dominick died on March 18, 1981, at the age of 65 at Hobe Sound, Fla. He is buried in Fairmount Cemetery in Denver.

Mary Louise Giblin Henderson was a reporter for The Daily Sentinel from 1941 through 1985. She now lives in Novato, Calif.


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