“I didn’t make it in life because of my athletic prowess. I didn’t make it because of my good looks. I didn’t make it because I’m a genius,” the Nevada Senator said in his farewell address on the Senate floor. “I made it because I worked hard.”
“The little boy from Searchlight has been able to be part of changing the state of Nevada,” he added.
Reid, 77, was first elected to Congress in 1983 after serving in local government in Nevada, including as the state’s lieutenant governor. He became a Senator in 1987 and Senate Majority Leader in 2001. Reid formally announced in March 2015 that he would retire at the end of his current term.
Reid, who wrote an op-ed in The New York Times Thursday about the harms of President-elect Donald Trump’s desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act, shared personal stories about how growing up in a household with limited access to health care shaped his politics.
“I can remember my father having such a bad toothache, I watched him pull a tooth with a pair of pliers,” Reid told senators. “My mother was hit in the face with a softball when she was a young woman in Searchlight (Nevada).”
“My brother was riding his bicycle and slid on the dirt, broke his leg. He never went to the doctor,” Reid added.
His father also battled depression, which played a part in his death.
“I can still remember seeing my dad on that bed, and I was so sad because my dad never had a chance. He was depressed always. He was reclusive,” Reid said about his father who shot and killed himself. “But I think everyone can understand a little bit of why I have been such an avid supporter of Obamacare.”
One overarching theme of Reid’s final speech was that a man who grew up in a Nevada town few people had ever heard of rose to become one of America’s most influential policymakers.
Reid, who speaks often of growing up in Searchlight, Nevada, shared how he came to embrace being from a small Western town.
“I was kind of embarrassed about it. It was kind of a crummy place. I didn’t show people pictures of my home,” he said.
But as a younger man, Reid heard “Roots” author Alex Haley give a speech at a dinner about the value of having pride in one’s geographical roots.
“He said be proud of who you are. You can’t escape who you are. And I walked out of that event that night a different person, a new man,” he said. “From that day forward, I was from searchlight.”
Reid also spoke affectionately of his friendship with political rival, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, stating that the two never let ideology get in the way of their friendship.
“He and his wonderful wife have been kind and thoughtful to us,” Reid said.
“When I hurt myself, Mitch called me,” Reid said, apparently referring to an exercise machine accident last year that left him badly injured. “So everybody go ahead and make up all the stories you want about how we hate each other. Go ahead, but we don’t.”
The Kentucky Republican also spoke favorably about working with Reid and their friendship.
“It’s clear that Harry and I have two very different world views, two different ways of doing things and two different sets of legislative priorities, but through the years, we’ve come to understand some things about one another,” McConnell said. “And we’ve endeavored to keep our disagreements professional rather than personal.”