SPRINGFIELD – Since spending a bitter-cold winter at a German prison camp during World War II, Dick Lockhart said his feet have ached more when lying in bed on cold nights than when moving around.
This may explain why the 90-year-old lobbyist can still be found wandering the halls of the Illinois Capitol on behalf of clients more than 55 years after getting into the influence game.
The state Senate recognized Lockhart on the chamber floor Wednesday for the decades he has devoted to representing his clients, many of which that advocate for better mental health care and services. And a party was scheduled for later Wednesday to honor Lockhart, who said he works seven days a week and is at the Capitol just about every day that the Legislature is in session.
Lockhart said he doesn’t plan to slow down, which isn’t surprising to those who know him.
“He is simply somebody that you knew was formidable if he opposed you and a good ally if he was with you,” said Jim Fletcher, a lobbyist who has known Lockhart since the late 1960s.
Lockhart was in high school when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He went to Purdue University for a semester before he joined the Army. In the middle of December 1944, Lockhart’s regiment surrendered to the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, and he was a prisoner of war for four months in a German camp.
He said he didn’t have winterized footwear, which led to the aching he still feels today when his feet aren’t moving.
“I tell people they have a very effective weight reduction plan,” Lockhart said. But he notes that he weighs the same today as he did his senior year of high school.
Lockhart said many things have changed since he first began lobbying in 1958, including increasing amounts of legislation every year and constant fundraising or campaigning for lawmakers.
But he said the importance of integrity and honesty hasn’t changed. That’s one lesson his firm’s vice president Gael Mennecke said she learned right away from Lockhart. At any one time, Lockhart’s firm, Social Engineering Associates, has about 15 clients whom he lobbies for in Springfield, many of which Mennecke described as “do-good” groups.
“He burned into my mind when I was lobbying to always tell the truth. That has served me well not only in lobbying but in all walks of life,” said Mennecke, who has worked with Lockhart since 1974.
Lockhart said his greatest accomplishment was lobbying for mental health insurance parity in Illinois, which he did by garnering the support of some Republicans and making it a non-partisan issue.
Perhaps it’s because Lockhart keeps steadily moving that he stays younger than his years indicate. The work is repetitive he says, with slight changes here and there. But many things stay the same.
“It’s a never ending plotless plot,” Lockhart said. “You’re not going to hit a home run every time you come up to bat.”