Hotel magnate J.W. Marriott Jr. remembers that when he fell in love with his future wife in college, she was dating another man. So he enlisted help from a fraternity brother to spy on them and suggest how to woo her away.
The spy was Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, and Marriott said he might never have gotten married without Garn's help. "He held my hand all the way," Marriott said.Marriott was among old friends, senators and cabinet members who praised the retiring Garn Thursday at a farewell dinner hosted by the University of Utah's Garn Institute of Finance at Washington's J.W. Marriott Hotel.
Many turned Garn's reputation for Congress-bashing, physical fitness obsession, high moral values and love of space travel into great one-liners.
Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole set up a joke noting Garn is most famous for his 1985 ride aboard the space shuttle, where he volunteered to get sick and vomit for experiments.
"After President Bush's performance under the table at the state dinner in Japan last year, the Japanese ambassador leaned over and said, `I know Jake Garn. Jake Garn is a friend of mine. And Mr. President, you are no Jake Garn," Dole joked.
Dole added, "Of course, Jake wasn't the first politician in space. (Ohio Sen.) John Glenn was there, and of course Jerry Brown has been there for years."
Liberal Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said he attended to show "Jake has at least one friend who is a Democrat." Alluding to Garn's famous and constant bashing of Congress, Dodd mentioned one senator said of Garn's upcoming retirement, "Well, we won't have Jake Garn to kick us around any more."
Dodd added that Garn "didn't like the Senate from the moment he arrived. In fact, for us who have listened to him through the years, it was a demotion from being mayor of Salt Lake City."
Dodd - who also has the reputation of a swinging bachelor - said, "People may not know it, but Jake is a wild fellow . . . We've had wild lunches eating whole-bran muffins and plain yogurt while sipping on carrot juice."
Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady said many in Washington will miss Garn, including "the gnomes at the Treasury you always talk about, who are not to be confused with the weasels at the Office of Budget and Management."
While jokes rolled, the speakers also seriously praised Garn for his accomplishments.
Brady said Garn - who was chairman of the Senate Banking Committee - is most responsible for important banking reforms ranging from allowing interstate branches to allowing banks to sell insurance. He lamented that Congress didn't listen to Garn's warnings quicker about need for reform to avoid widespread savings and loan collapses.
"We will miss the passion in your voice and the fire in your belly," Brady said.
Dan Wall, a longtime Garn aide and former top regulator of the S&L industry, said, "Jake doesn't do anything the easy way. He does it the right way, and that's what's important."
Dole also said, "We have work horses and show horses in the Senate . . . Jake is one of those work horses who gets things done."
Garn said in response to all the praise, "It is me who needs to thank the people of Utah for the privilege to serve them, and for the opportunities they have given me that I could never have imagined."