Nearly every retrospective memorializing the late U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., remembered the 92-year-old as a man of another era. Dingell, first elected to the House of Representatives in 1955, served in Congress for 59 years in a political career that spanned 11 presidencies.
Dingell, the longest serving member of Congress in U.S. history, passed away in his Dearborn home Thursday evening after he entered hospice care just the day before. He was diagnosed with cancer earlier in 2018, yet remained a force to be reckoned with, often going viral on his Twitter account with sharp political quips and commentary.
A host of family and friends, political allies and adversaries, journalists and commentators are painting the congressman as more than a memory. Dingell’s life and death, they say, is of utmost importance for our politics today.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., John’s wife of 38 years and congressional successor, wrote a Facebook post Friday evening recounting her husband’s final hours.
“He was lucid, visiting with friends, in charge until the end,” she wrote. “And trust me he knew exactly what he wanted, when he wanted it and we did it his way… 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.”
These words made up John Dingell’s last op-ed, published in The Washington Post Friday morning with the preface that “some occasions merit more than 280 characters.” Dingell espoused congressional action and policy on climate change, health care and racial discrimination, among other topics. Over the course of his career, Dingell helped pass or cast critical votes on the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, the Clean Water and Clean Air acts and the Endangered Species Act.
“My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler,” he wrote. “We observed modicums of respect even as we fought, often bitterly and savagely, over issues that were literally life and death to a degree that — fortunately – we see much less of today.”
The late congressman’s last public appearance on campus was last February alongside Debbie, where the pair answered questions from students in front of more than 100 at the Ford School of Public Policy. The Dingells are longtime supporters of the campus community, and University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel offered his condolences to the family in a statement Thursday.
“I considered John a historically significant public servant and man of great gravitas,” he wrote.
Dingell was also a longtime feature in the pages of The Michigan Daily, as journalists over the course of four decades interviewed and profiled the congressman.
“RIP @JohnDingell,” Stephanie Steinberg, former editor in chief of The Daily, tweeted Thursday. “Thx for sending paczki to the @michigandaily when I was EIC & always supporting student journalists. You were 1 of a kind.”
“I interviewed him a handful of times in college, and he was always generous with his time,” Joseph Lichterman, a former Daily arts writer, added on Twitter Thursday. “He also made fun of me on Twitter once, which is probably the best thing that happened to me on here.”
Fifteen years ago, just hours before winning his 26th term in Congress back in 2004, Dingell told Daily reporter Margaret Havemann he would govern until he couldn’t any more.
“If I can do it, I will,” he said. “There are a lot of people who have a say in what I do, the people and my wife being some of them. And if the good Lord says come up here with me, then I guess I will have to.”