Herb Kohl, a longtime Democratic senator from Wisconsin and former owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, has died, his philanthropic organization announced Wednesday. He was 88 years old.
The Herb Kohl Philanthropies did not provide a cause of death, but said he died after suffering a brief illness.
A popular figure in his native Wisconsin, he built a fortune running the Kohl’s department store alongside his brother and father, who founded the company. He then became chairman and CEO before betting a then-staggering sum of nearly $20 million on the Bucks in 1985 to keep them from leaving town, a record at the time for an NBA franchise.
Although it later proved to be a great investment, he said at the time that he viewed the transaction as an investment in the broader Milwaukee community, which was struggling to find its place amid recession and change in the business climate due to deindustrialization.
“I didn’t get into this business to make money,” Kohl said when he first bought the team. “I just hope to break even. Money doesn’t motivate me. The pursuit of the almighty dollar? It is not me.”
It was an attitude he would adopt when he embarked on a political career three years later, winning election to the U.S. Senate in 1988 with his slogan: “No one is a senator but yours.”
He was one of the wealthiest members of the Senate during his 24-year tenure and was praised by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for his moderate voting record and humble, even shy, demeanor .
Kohl, who never married, avoided the spotlight, despite his place in a body often built on attention-seeking behavior.
“I’m a person who doesn’t believe in invective,” he once said, according to the Associated Press. “I never go out to grab the microphone or stand in front of the television camera. When I go to work every day, I check my ego at the door.
During his more than two decades in the House, Kohl often quietly championed his home state’s issues, such as dairy production, and later served as chairman of the Agriculture Committee.
He announced that he would not run in the 2012 elections, at the age of 76, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at the time: “The office does not belong to me. It belongs to the people of Wisconsin, and there is something to be said about not staying in power too long.
“I always thought it was better to leave a job too early than too late, and that’s how I feel today.”
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