Image: Bill Clinton at Bentsen’s service
Pat Sullivan  /  AP
Former President Clinton gestures towards B. A. Bentsen at the memorial service for her husband, former senator and Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen.
updated 5/30/2006 4:16:55 PM ET 2006-05-30T20:16:55

When former senator and Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen announced his retirement, President Bill Clinton heralded him as “one of the outstanding economic policymakers in this country since World War II.”

Two former presidents, three former secretaries of state, former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan and Lady Bird Johnson are among 60 honorary pallbearers gathered at a memorial service in Houston for Bentsen, who died last week at the age of 85.

Clinton was accompanied by his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton. Also taking their seats for the afternoon service were former Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, former Secretary of State James Baker, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, former House Speaker Jim Wright, and U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn of Texas.

Bentsen started his career as a county judge in the 1940s, represented Texas in Congress for 28 years and ran for vice president in 1988 with former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. In recent years, he had suffered two strokes and had been under a doctor’s care and in a wheelchair. He died at his Houston home on May 23.

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It was during the 1988 vice presidential debate that Bentsen famously put down vice presidential rival Dan Quayle after Quayle commented that he had as much experience in Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency.

“Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy,” Bentsen said. “I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

Clinton: Bentsen an ‘outstanding policymaker’
As Clinton’s first treasury secretary, serving from 1993-94, Bentsen enjoyed a higher profile than others in that job. Clinton took Bentsen with him for his first summit with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and deferred to the former Senate Finance Committee chairman’s judgment on budget deliberations.

When Bentsen announced his retirement, Clinton said: “By any stead, he ranks as one of the outstanding economic policymakers in this country since World War II.”

In 1999 Clinton gave Bentsen the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Bentsen, who flew 50 bomber missions over Europe during World War II, began his political career in 1946 when he was elected Hidalgo County judge. He served in the U.S. House from 1948-55 and in the Senate from 1971-93. He made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976.

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