For The Record

Max Cleland’s life of courage and public service celebrated at U.S., Georgia capitols

By: - November 9, 2021 8:02 pm

President Joe Biden and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp Tuesday joined a bipartisan chorus paying tribute to the late Max Cleland, who served as his home state’s senator and as Veterans Affairs administrator. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Tributes for the late Max Cleland poured in from both sides of the aisle after the former U.S. senator and Veterans Affairs administrator died Tuesday

Cleland was also a former Secretary of State, state senator and an appointee to federal panels, most recently the American Battle Monuments Commission. And he did it all as a Vietnam War veteran who lost his legs and right arm in an accident involving a live grenade five decades ago.

The 79-year-old died at his Atlanta home of heart failure, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

President Joe Biden said his former Democratic colleague in the U.S. Senate turned “pain into purpose” after months in the hospitals and multiple surgeries.

“He continued his distinguished public service, becoming a lifelong champion of the dignity and rights of working people and America’s wounded veterans,” Biden said in a statement. “His leadership was the essential driving force behind the creation of the modern VA health system, where so many of his fellow heroes have found lifesaving support and renewed purpose of their own thanks in no small part to Max’s lasting impact.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called Cleland “the bold warrior with a big heart and loved by all in the Senate.” Sen. Raphael Warnock described him as “a true giant of public service.” And Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, called Cleland a “great patriot.”

“Senator Cleland’s service to our state, nation, and his fellow veterans was defined by his optimism, grit, and determination to give hardworking Georgians a better chance to achieve the American dream. Max’s example of persevering through adversity will continue to inspire generations of Georgians for years to come,” Kemp said in a statement.

Both legislative chambers, which are at the state Capitol for a special session for redistricting, honored Cleland Tuesday.

“He lived a life that was not without pain and suffering,” said a tearful state Rep. Scott Holcomb, an Atlanta Democrat who is also a U.S. Army veteran. “That understanding of pain and suffering led him to a life of service where he wanted to help others and ease their suffering.”

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.