Debbie Dingell shares John Dingell’s last days, story behind his final op-ed

Debbie Dingell at a housing hearing in Detroit | Ken Coleman

On Friday, the Washington Post ran one last op-ed from the late U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn) on his vision for the nation. Dingell, the former Dean of the House, died Thursday night at age 92 in hospice care.

The piece written by the World War II veteran was a love letter to America.

“One of the advantages to knowing that your demise is imminent, and that reports of it will not be greatly exaggerated, is that you have a few moments to compose some parting thoughts,” he wrote. “In our modern political age, the presidential bully pulpit seems dedicated to sowing division and denigrating, often in the most irrelevant and infantile personal terms, the political opposition. And much as I have found Twitter to be a useful means of expression, some occasions merit more than 280 characters.”

The column was an eloquent guide to what the country should be and a look at the progress that was been made in his lifetime on health care, the Great Lakes, civil rights and more.

“Please note: All of these challenges were addressed by Congress. Maybe not as fast as we wanted, or as perfectly as hoped. The work is certainly not finished. But we’ve made progress,” Dingell wrote.

In typical fashion, he ended the column with a bang:

“As I prepare to leave this all behind, I now leave you in control of the greatest nation of mankind and pray God gives you the wisdom to understand the responsibility you hold in your hands. May God bless you all, and may God bless America.”

Early Saturday morning, his wife, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) — whom he acknowledges in the column for her “forgiveness and sweetness” and “essentially [supporting] me for almost 40 years” — gave the backstory of how it came to be.

“I want to share his last few days,” she wrote in an emotional, unflinching Facebook post.

Dingell said he was “lucid, visiting with friends, in charge until the end. And trust me he knew exactly what he wanted, when he wanted it and we did it his way.”

Bill Clinton (left) and George W. Bush (right)

Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush talked to the former congressman in his last 24 hours, Debbie Dingell wrote.

“He was very John Dingell in what he had to say, made them both laugh and gave them very clear serious instructions,” she wrote.

Both U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and former U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Royal Oak) came by, as well as actress Lynda Carter, friends and family members.

“Tuesday he had asked for a pad of paper he had things he wanted to say. Writing had become hard. Wednesday he started dictating to me, had thoughts he wanted shared when his time came. Thursday morning he kicked me out of the room,” she recalled. “… He had a lot of thoughts he wanted shared. He had proverbs he loved as well.”

Then Mike Duffy, a friend of the Dingells and Washington Post deputy editorial page editor, reached out on Thursday afternoon “having no idea John had done this” and asked if the Dean wanted to write an op-ed.

“I shared the email and John started talking more,” she said. “You all now see the thoughts he shared.

“He loved this country. He loved public service. And he loved people. It’s hard. But I thought I should share how he wrote that letter and why. He wanted to make sure we all knew we are all part of this great democracy. And he wished for very person who wants to be nasty, loves social media for taking shots and use harsh rhetoric to think about whether the message could be shared with less hate, and a gentler tone. And he loved people. He knew we are part of community and that community is the strength of democracy.”

Dingell thanked Dearborn firefighters and loved ones for being there. She also shared some humorous memories like when he once inadvertently pushed his medical alert button and didn’t know it, so when firefighters arrived, “he was naked in the shower and looked at them and said, ‘Fellows, can I help you?'”

She wrote, as she has many times, that she “was so blessed to have this incredible love affair for so many years.

“I did not think this would come so quick,” Dingell added. “I thought we would have more time.”

At the end of her post, Dingell said, “My community is getting me through the saddest and hardest time of my life. I love him with every ounce of me. I love you John Dingell and he loved all of you and this country.”

Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.


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