Former US Congressman John Dingell dies at 92

Posted at 9:13 PM, Feb 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-11 10:41:50-05

(WXYZ) — 7 Action News will provide complete coverage of the visitation and funeral services of the longest-serving U.S. congressman in history, John Dingell. He was 92 years old when he died in his home in Dearborn Thursday night.

Dingell represented the people of Michigan for nearly 59 years and was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1955 and served through the end of his term in 2015.

On Wednesday, his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell, said she was home with John as they “entered a new phase,” while also asking for “prayers and privacy during this difficult time.”

"He was a lion of the United States Congress and a loving son, father, husband, grandfather, and friend," his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell said. "He will be remembered for his decades of public service to the people of Southeast Michigan, his razor sharp wit, and a lifetime of dedication to improving the lives of all who walk this earth."

In September, John suffered a heart attack but was in good spirits and treated at Henry Ford Hospital. It was revealed earlier this week that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and decided not to treat it.

Born in Colorado Springs, Colo., Dingell enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1944 and served until 1946 after his discharge following World War II. He took over the seat that was held by his father, John Sr., after his father’s death in 1955.

During his time in Congress, Dingell helped pass several landmark legislation which include Medicare, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act

He was also the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from 1981-1995 and again from 2007-2009. Dingell led investigations that forced the resignation of former Stanford University President Donald Kennedy after it was found they misused hundreds of millions of dollars in federal research funds, the resignation of President Ronald Reagan's first environmental protection chief Anne Gorsuch Burford, and led to the conviction of Michael Deaver, one of Reagan's top advisers, for lying under oath.

Chris Dingellm his son, remembers being sent out of town away from his dad - who feared retaliation for his support of civil rights. His dad explained to his young son it was important.

"There are certain things that are just wrong. Americans should have the ability to get an education, get a decent job, raise a family have a home have a prospect of enjoying life, building a life for their children, and that kind of thing was taken from many Americans. that was simply wrong," Chris said.

His dad brought his passion for the out doors to congress - helping to draft the clean air and clean water acts.

Before serving in the Army and becoming a congressman, Dingell worked as a page for the U.S. House and attended the Capital Page School.

Dingell, a Democrat, also stepped away from his party and was opposed to gun control and once served as a board member for the National Rifle Association. Later in life, Dingell opposed the NRA.

In a letter dated June 28, 2012, Dingell wrote, “It seems I am at odds with the National Rifle Association, a group with which I have been proud to be associated with throughout my tenure in Congress.”

Dingell has not been one to keep silent despite his retirement and has tweeted about President Trump and politics in America several times since Trump’s election in 2016.

In a December 2018 article for The Atlantic, Dingell set out several ways Congress can gain Americans’’ trust back. One of those ways, he believes, is to abolish the Senate.

"There is a solution, however, that could gain immediate popular support: Abolish the Senate. At a minimum, combine the two chambers into one, and the problem will be solved," he wrote.

"It will take a national movement, starting at the grassroots level, and will require massive organizing, strategic voting, and strong leadership over the course of a generation. But it has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? 'Abolish the Senate.'"

“He was tough because he cared so deeply. His contributions to working families’ economic well being, health care and environmental protection over more than half a century were unparalleled," a statement from former Sen. Carl Levin, former Rep. Sandy Levin and current Rep. Andy Levin said. "Our family has been blessed with more than 70 years of friendship with the Dingells.”

"John Dingell’s resolute devotion to the people of Michigan and our nation set a high standard to which we should all aspire in public service. We will miss him dearly, but his impact will endure," University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel said in a statement.

In his memoir, “The Dean: The Best Seat in the House,” late President George H.W. Bush reflected on his work with Dingell despite being on different sides of the aisle.

“John was and is a fiercely loyal Democrat, just as I was a Republican. But he based his views, and therefore his votes in Congress, on what he thought was best for the country and for the people he represented from his beloved state of Michigan,” Bush wrote. “That often meant going against the party line, which also meant that, thanks to him and others, some very good bipartisan legislation was passed during my presidency, when both houses of Congress were controlled by Democrats.”

“Dignity. When I think of John Dingell, that’s the word that comes to mind,” Former Vice President Joe Biden wrote in the foreword. “It’s how John walked, how he talked, how he carried himself. But more than anything, it’s how he treated people. John fought hard for his constituents. But a lot of members of Congress work hard. What set John apart was his deep belief that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”

He announced his retirement on Feb. 24, 2014, and was succeeded in Congress by his wife, Debbie, in the following election. He is only one of four people to serve more than 50 years in Congress.

“Deborah and I have lived amongst you for now, about 40 years, and we’ve lived and loved you. This has been a place that has been full of loving friends whose goodness to all of us Dingells means so much,” Dingell said during his retirement speech.

Shortly after, Dingell was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“John built a pureless record of his own. He gaveled in the vote for Medicare, helped lead the fight for the Civil Rights Act. For more than half a century in every single Congress, John introduced a bill for comprehensive health care,” then-President Barack Obama said. “His life reminds us that change takes time, it takes courage and persistence, but if we push hard enough and long enough, change is possible.”

“I’ve been able to stand on the shoulders of giants who have taken me in and helped me learn. And I’ve had the opportunity to participate in discussions of really important matters and to make a contribution,” Dingell told Editorial Director Chuck Stokes.