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Sen. Mike Lee: Missing my friend, Harry Reid

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Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid tips his hat during a fundraiser for the Nevada Democratic Party, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Las Vegas.

Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid tips his hat during a fundraiser for the Nevada Democratic Party, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Las Vegas.

John Locher, Associated Press

In January 1983, Josh Reid moved into my neighborhood in Northern Virginia. My father was serving as solicitor general under President Reagan and Josh’s father, Harry Reid, had just been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Nevada. Josh and I quickly became best friends. We were both 11 years old at the time, and we attended school and church together, were active in the same Scout troop, played on the same soccer team, and had many interests in common.

Josh’s parents always made me feel at home whenever I was at their house, which was a lot. Harry and Landra never ridiculed me for being a Republican (I can’t say the same for Josh, who considered mocking my sixth grade political ideology his solemn responsibility). They were welcoming and kind, showed a personal interest in all of their kids’ friends.

Harry was eventually assigned as my family’s “home teacher”— the designated member of our church congregation who would visit my family every month to deliver a gospel message and check on our spiritual and temporal well-being. He performed that assignment with characteristic fidelity and genuine concern. 

As I got to know the Reid family, I came to appreciate Harry’s well-developed sense of humor and penchant for practical jokes. One day, as Josh and I were riding skateboards in the Reids’ garage, Harry figured out a way to lock us inside (I’m still not sure how he did it), just to see how we’d react. He seemed pleased with the outcome — in large part because Josh and I seemed not only unfazed, but affirmatively amused by the trick.

Sen. Mike Lee speaks in front of an American flag.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks during an election night event for Republican candidates in at the Utah Association of Realtors building in Sandy on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

That same sense of humor was still intact many decades later when then-Majority Leader Harry Reid and I became colleagues. On the day I was sworn into my first term in the Senate, Harry was sworn into his fifth. The entire Reid family was present, including my friend Josh. 

Immediately after then-Vice President Joe Biden had administered the oath of office, as I left the rostrum in the Senate and walked back to my assigned desk, Harry gestured to me, encouraging me to walk over to his desk. I dutifully complied, expecting that he might say something profound or offer words of encouragement. Trying not to disrupt the next procession of senators walking up to the rostrum to be sworn in, Harry whispered to me the words, “You know, when I first met you, both you and Josh had more hair than I do; now I have more hair than either of you.” 

That was it. No warm welcome or words of encouragement. Just a hilarious exchange, the memory of which I will cherish forever.

That conversation ended up being the first of countless encounters with Harry in which he checked in on me, now as a colleague, to see how I and my family were doing. We talked about a wide range of topics. Many of them were legislative in nature, and when they culminated in our agreeing on our shared support for a particular bill, he’d inevitably ask “which one of us is wrong here?” But at least as many of those conversations focused on matters of family, faith and friendship. And they always involved Harry saying something funny — in his own, predictably unpredictable way.  

Following his retirement, I found that I really missed interacting with Harry on a regular basis. But he continued to check in on me from time to time, just as he had since I was a sixth grader. He always had something interesting to say — never predictable, never conventional, but always full of well-timed humor and good insight. 

I will miss Harry Reid, and will always count my friendship with him and his family as a profound blessing. 

Sen. Mike Lee has represented Utah in the U.S. Senate since 2011.