Two of Edmund S. Muskie’s most prominent former staff members remembered the late U.S. senator Saturday for his patience, persistence and mastery of the art of compromise.

“He inspired us and showed the government could be a force for good,” said former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Albright and “PBS NewsHour” political commentator Mark Shields spoke about Muskie’s legacy in today’s world before hundreds of people at the Abromson Center on the University of Southern Maine campus in Portland.

They turned out to remember the man who lent his name to the Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service, which as part of its Muskie Centennial Celebration also held a symposium Saturday titled “Connecting Law and Legislature: the Legacy of Senator Ed Muskie.” Muskie was born on March 28, 1914, in Rumford.

The audience included many former Muskie staff members and two of his children.

During his 21 years in the U.S. Senate, Muskie was the driving force behind a wide range of legislation, including the Clean Air Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the Budget Reform Act of 1974. He served as governor of Maine from 1955 to 1959 and as U.S. secretary of state from 1980 to 1981.

Albright was Muskie’s chief legislative assistant from 1976 to 1978. Shields was a member of Muskie’s field campaign staff during the senator’s 1972 presidential campaign.

Moderator Joel Goldstein, a professor at the St. Louis University School of Law and a scholar of the presidency and constitutional law, said Muskie was a man of Maine.

But “he was also a man of the nation and the world,” Goldstein added.

Albright said many of Muskie’s best qualities are needed in Washington today. She called Muskie, a liberal Democrat, a consensus builder who believed no party had a monopoly on wisdom. She said he was a critical thinker who never compromised his principles. As secretary of state, Albright said, she kept a portrait of Muskie in her office.

“Remember the people who inspire you. For me, that was Ed Muskie,” Albright said.

Shields remembered Muskie’s tireless quest to bring about sweeping environmental legislation, holding hundreds of meetings to get the House and Senate to adopt laws to clean up air and water pollution. “He would outwork, outreason and outwait the opposition,” Shields said.

Shields also recalled Muskie’s keen sense of humor, retelling one of Muskie’s favorite jokes about a self-satisfied Texas rancher stopping his limo to chat with a Maine farmer. The Texan asked the Mainer how big his farm was. The Maine farmer replied, “Four acres.” The Texan boasted that it would take him from dawn to dusk to ride in his limousine from one side of his ranch in Texas to the other.

At which the Maine farmer shook his head in sympathy and replied, “I used to have a car like that.”