Our look back at the life of John Dingell

John Dingell through the years: Photo Credits: Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan, Getty Images and Wikimedia Commons

It’s difficult to capture the the life of someone who has had such a far-reaching impact in both Michigan and the entire country.

From Medicare to the Clean Air Act, the late U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn) shaped some of the biggest issues in the post-World War II era. He also touched the lives of thousands of people on a personal level.

Here’s a roundup of our stories on Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress in history, as well as some stories in other publications you shouldn’t miss:

John Dingell |Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan photo, Flickr

John Dingell was the former Dean of the House, serving on Capitol Hill from December 1955 to 2015 — 59 years and 21 days. On June 7, 2013, he surpassed the service record held by former U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.). Dingell was elected 30 times. He spent years as chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee and was known as “The Truck.”

“It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of John David Dingell, Jr.,” she said in a statement. “Congressman Dingell died peacefully today at his home in Dearborn, surrounded by his wife Deborah. He was a lion of the United States Congress and a loving son, father, husband, grandfather, and friend. 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.”His wife, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), did not attend the State of the Union address on Tuesday to be by his side. They were married in 1981.

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.

Debbie Dingell and John Dingell | Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan photo, Flickr

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.

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.

“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.”

U.S. President Donald Trump, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence looking on, delivers the State of the Union address on February 5, 2019 | Doug Mills, Pool/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — John Dingell was among President Trump’s most enthusiastic Twitter foes.

The longest-serving member of Congress in history, Dingell had a reputation on Capitol Hill for belittling his opponents during his decades as a powerful committee chair. And the Dearborn Democrat never minced words about his disdain for the president.Dingell, who died Thursday at age 92, went from being a congressional icon to a social media icon. He had attracted nearly 260,000 Twitter followers, whom he lured with his signature snark about topics ranging from Michigan sports to political news.

The heckling started even before Trump’s election. In August 2016, Trump wrote after Britain’s decision to exit the European Union: “They will soon be calling me MR. BREXIT!”

Dingell replied, “You misspelled Bullshit. And we’ve been calling you that for a while now.”

John Dingell | Creative Commons

I think if Dingell had been asked to choose the issue closest to his heart, it would have been health care. And it wouldn’t even be close.

“Having no health insurance was always a matter of terror to people I knew, because most of ’em were about one sickness away from destitution,” he told me in 2012. “And people died for lack of health care or insurance.”

It was also a deeply personal fight. “We’ve known sickness,” the former congressman said of his family, which is a bit of an understatement. His father suffered from tuberculosis and was told (wrongly) at one point that he had only six months to live. His mother had stomach ulcers and died of cancer. His sister had polio and died of pneumonia.

“If I wasn’t one of the first to be shot up with penicillin,” he said in that same interview, “I wouldn’t be here talking to you.”As a kid, Dingell had double mastoids. He later contracted meningitis while in the Army.

Barack Obama | Creative Commons

The passing Thursday of former U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn), the former Dean of the House, was marked by many political leaders in Michigan and beyond.

Former President Barack Obama remembered Dingell’s role in the 2008 auto bailout that was critical for Michigan.Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called him “one of our greatest leaders” and ordered Michigan’s flags to be lowered in his honor.

“Over the course of the longest congressional career in history, John led the charge on so much of the progress we take for granted today. He presided over the vote for Medicare — changing the lives of America’s seniors. He helped lead the fight for the Civil Rights Act — opening new doors for countless citizens. Ten years ago, in a moment of peril, he helped us rescue the American auto industry — saving the livelihoods of one million Americans,” he said.

Bill Clinton (left) and Joe Biden (right)

The late U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn) will be eulogized by former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Joe Biden, among other political leaders who have been longtime friends.

Biden is slated to speak at services on Tuesday in Dearborn. Clinton, who spoke to Dingell just before his passing, is scheduled to speak in Washington, D.C. So is Dingell’s longtime friend, U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who visited him in Dearborn last week.

Information on Dingell services

On Tuesday, a motorcade carrying Dingell’s casket will be driven past the U.S. Capitol on the East Plaza.A funeral mass is scheduled for Thursday.

Memorial events on Monday and Tuesday are open to the public.

John Dingell | Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan photo, Flickr

Other stories about Dingell not to be missed:

In Politico Magazine, from Macomb County’s own Zack Stanton: “There’s really nobody in America who isn’t impacted — often in ways they don’t understand — by his work in Washington.”

In the Detroit Free Press: “Dingell may have yielded his body to the earth and his soul to the heavens, but his legacy? That is ours. That is America’s. And we must protect it and replicate it at all costs.”

Todd Spangler talked to those who worked for Dingell, who remembered him as “compassionate, irascible and ornery”: “As he often told his staff, “You do what’s right and let me handle the politics.”

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Susan J. Demas is a 17-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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