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When the current session of Congress is brought to a close with the banging of the gavel, several members will be departing our Senate community.  Whatever they will be doing after closing this chapter of their lives we wish them well and share with them our great appreciation for their willingness to serve and our acknowledgement of the difference they have made over the years.

Mark Kirk, one of our current senators from Illinois, has left his mark on the Congress over the years that will not soon be forgotten.  He has served with great distinction and he has made a difference in the Senate.

Mark’s early years in Washington began when the people of Illinois voted to send him to the House of Representatives.  He represented their interests from 2001 – 2010.  In 2010 Mark ran for and won an open Senate seat.  When he was sworn in he brought with him what had earned him the trust and support of the people back home throughout his years in the House – an independent streak and an open mind to everything that drew his interest and captured his attention.

The statistics that have been taken over the past six years bear that out.  Whatever came before the Senate gave Mark reason to review each issue with what he thought to be in the best interests of the people of his state.  He wasn’t always then found exclusively on one side of the aisle or the other when it came time to vote. 

During his years of service in the Senate two of the issues that particularly drew his attention were Iran and the provision of care and treatment of our nation’s veterans.

Mark has been focused on Iran and what our nation should be doing to ensure that Iran’s government was kept in check and its threat to the Middle East and any other nation was minimized.  He kept watch over their potential nuclear program and the best way to keep Iran’s future ambitions under control and limited to what should be their top priority -- making Iran a better place for its people. 

As for our veterans, Mark served as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.  It helped him to focus on the need to do more to ensure those veterans who retired from duty with medical issues received the care they needed to recover and live better, more healthful lives.  It was an interest that stemmed from his service in the Navy Reserve from 1989 – 2013.  It was yet another way for Mark to make a difference in the lives of those who had served our nation.

Before I close, a recognition of Mark’s Senate years must include our recognition of the challenge of recovering from a stroke during his Senate service.  It was a long and difficult road back to the Senate so he could again represent the people of his home state.  All told it took him a year before he was strong enough to return to Washington on a permanent basis. 

One moment we will always remember was the day he came back to the Senate, escorted by Vice President Joe Biden and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.  The courage, determination and step by step success in achieving another difficult goal could not have been more clear.

The stroke that affected him physically also had an impact on his personal outlook on life as well.  When he was able, he wrote of his experience, “I was once a pessimist.  I’m not that man anymore.  And that change, brought about by misfortune is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

I have enjoyed the opportunity to come to know Mark over his Washington years and I wish he were going to stay with us so we could continue to follow his life every day as he continues to work on his goals, dreams and ambitions.

Diana joins in sending our best wishes and our appreciation for your willingness to serve.  You have a record of which you should be very proud – just as proud as we are of you.  You leave having made a difference far beyond your years of service.