John Dingell (1926 — 2019)

Former US Representative John Dingell of Michigan

Former US Representative John Dingell of Michigan. Photo courtesy Wikipedia via United States Congress.

Former US Representative John David Dingell Jr. of Michigan, an architect of some of the most important wildlife conservation laws in the nation, died February 7, 2019 in Dearborn, Michigan. He was 92.

During his 59 years in Congress spanning 1955 to 2014, the longest Congressional tenure in U.S. history, Mr. Dingell served as the main architect on the Clean Water Act of 1972, and authored several laws advocating for wildlife conservation: the Water Quality Act of 1965, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the the Clean Air Act of 1990. He sponsored the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997. He also established the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge in 2001 — the only international wildlife refuge in the nation and managed jointly by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service. He was a member of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission from 1969 until his retirement in 2014.

Mr. Dingell was instrumental in protecting and enhancing the National Wildlife Refuge System. After witnessing his inspiring legislative accomplishments in the early 1970s, retired Refuge System managers founded the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) in 1975 to protect the Refuge System and carry on Dingell’s legacy. In May 2014, the NWRA recognized Congressman Dingell’s vast contributions by awarding him the first ever Theodore Roosevelt Lifetime Achievement Award.

“This man — this single human being — had a profound impact on the lives of every American, whether they realize it or not,” said Geoffrey Haskett, President of the National Wildlife Refuge System. “Every single one of us benefited from his passion and his drive to make our lives better and his legacy will continue to have this impact on future generations.”

Former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama offered their condolences to the Dingell family on the afternoon of his death.

“Hillary and I mourn the passing of John Dingell, one of the finest public servants in American history. For nearly 60 years, John represented the people of Michigan with honor, integrity, great good humor, and unequaled ability to get good legislation passed.” — Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States (1993 - 2001)

“I was fortunate to speak to John Dingell this afternoon. I thanked him for his service to our country and for being an example to those who have followed him into the public arena.” — George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States (2001 - 2009)

“John Dingell’s life reminds us that change does not always come with a flash, but instead with steady, determined effort. 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. John sat beside me when I signed the Affordable Care Act – a law that cut in half the uninsured rate in America. He had a long tradition of introducing legislation on the first day of each new Congress to guarantee health care for every single American. Because of him, we’ve come close to that vision than ever before. And when we finally achieve it – and we will – we’ll owe him our gratitude. Michelle and I send our warmest sympathies to Debbie, the entire Dingell family, and all the Michiganders and Americans whose lives are better because of his lifetime of service.” — Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States (2009 - 2017)

John David Dingell Jr. was born on July 8, 1926, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In 1932 his father, John Dingell Sr. (1894–1955) was elected the first representative of Michigan's newly created 15th District. In Washington, D.C., John Jr. attended Georgetown Preparatory School and then the House Page School when he served as a page for the U.S. House of Representatives from 1938 to 1943.

In 1944, at the age of 18, Mr. Dingell joined the United States Army. He rose to the rank of second lieutenant. He was discharged from the Army in 1946.

Mr. Dingell then attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry in 1949 and a Juris Doctor in 1952.

In 1955, John Sr. died and John Jr. won a special election to succeed him. He won a full term in 1956 and was reelected 29 times. During his 59 years in the House of Representatives, he was named the Dean of House, the title for the longest-serving member of the House, in honor of which he navigated Capitol Hill in a motorized scooter bearing a vanity plate emblazoned with the words “THE DEAN”.

In 2014 Mr. Dingell announced his retirement from Congress because, as he said to a Michigan business group at the time, he could no longer “live up to my own personal standard” for serving in Congress. President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom that same year. Mr. Dingell remained popular well after retirement. He gathered over 250,000 Twitter followers for his witty and sarcastic posts, earning him the nickname "the Dean of Twitter".

Mr. Dingell's wife, Debbie Dingell, won the election to succeed him in November 2014 and took office in January 2015. She was with him when he died peacefully at home on Thursday in Dearborn, Michigan, having skipped Tuesday’s State of the Union address in Washington DC to be with him as his health declined. “He was a lion of the United States Congress and a loving son, father, husband, grandfather, and friend,” her office 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.”

Mr. Dingell's first marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife and successor, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), a brother, a sister, three children and three grandchildren.

The day before his death, Mr. Dingell dictated to his wife what he referred to as "some parting thoughts". He concluded by saying:

“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. — Former U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich)