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MEGHAN CONLIN/Herald photo

Political figures from across the nation gathered at the Wisconsin Capitol Friday to honor former U.S. Sen. William Proxmire, D-Wis.

Proxmire died at the age of 90 last December after battling Alzheimer's disease for over a decade.

Notable politicians, including Gov. Jim Doyle and Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, both D-Wis., were in attendance to pay tribute to the late Wisconsin maverick.

"[Proxmire's] singular perseverance was the single most important factor of the building of the Wisconsin Democratic party," Doyle said.

Recognized for his progressive values, Proxmire actively supported various humanitarian interests during his 31 years serving in the U.S. Senate.

Before serving as a U.S. senator, Proxmire lauded his progressive values within Wisconsin as a state representative to promote the Democratic Party.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., said Proxmire "won this state for the Democrats" when he "stepped in and picked up the progressive mantel."

Proxmire began his political career in 1951 as a member of the Wisconsin Assembly. After running unsuccessfully for governor of Wisconsin for three consecutive terms, he was elected to serve in the U.S. Senate in 1957, filling the vacant seat left by the death of Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, R-Wis.

Proxmire was best known for his criticism of government spending and for his Congressional speeches promoting the ratification of the U.N. Genocide Convention.

"One person can and often does have the power to create a fair and just world," Doyle said about Proxmire's vision.

Doyle added Proxmire's devotion to human progress contributed to his work to promote scientific research and improve the educational system.

Additionally, in 1975, Proxmire began The Golden Fleece Awards, ironic prizes awarded monthly to highlight ridiculous government expenditures of taxpayer funds.

Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., reminisced about his favorite award when he was an intern for Proxmire.

"A $350,000 grant was given to the state Department of Housing and Urban Development to study the effects tequila had on goldfish," Kind said, adding when Proxmire explained the study to a group of Wisconsin college students, a woman raised her hand and said, "Sen. Proxmire, we all would have done that for free!"

Proxmire's former campaign treasurer John Finerty praised the senator's fiscal responsibility and work ethic, calling Proxmire "a shining example of integrity in our government."

Proxmire did not accept campaign contributions, Finerty added, and stayed at YMCA youth hostels whenever possible since his expenditures came out of his own pocket.

According to many of his political colleagues, Proxmire demonstrated as much discipline athletically as he did fiscally, with his devotion to Wisconsin athletics.

"Proxmire and Bucky Badger were the only two people at every single game," Feingold said, adding Proxmire's death was a "great loss of Wisconsin and to our nation."

Born in Lake Forest, Ill., in 1915, Proxmire attended Yale University and Harvard Business School. During World War II, Proxmire worked as a counterintelligence lieutenant in the U.S. Army, after which he moved to Wisconsin and reported for The Capitol Times.

Quoting Proxmire himself, Obey said, "The true test for public service … is to try to solve the most pressing problems of the time. This advice is as good today as it was when [Proxmire] said it … we salute him."