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Bill Clinton at John Dingell funeral: He was a 'world-class doer'. ...
Detroit Free Press
Feb. 14, 2019
WASHINGTON — A week after his death in Dearborn, former U.S. Rep. John Dingell was remembered Thursday
in the nation's capital by several legislative colleagues and one old hunting buddy — former President Bill Clinton.
"The thing that I loved most about him was that he was a world-class doer," said Clinton of Dingell, who during more than 59 years in Congress helped write and pass some of the most important civil rights, environmental and health care legislation in the nation's history. "John Dingell was just about the best doer in the history of American public life."
Dingell, a Democrat who became the longest-serving member of Congress, died last week at age 92. A funeral was held for him in Dearborn on Tuesday and another service began Thursday shortly after 10:30 a.m. at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in northwest Washington, D.C.
A veteran, he is expected to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday.
Speaking at Holy Trinity, where Dingell and his wife, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, were married in 1981, Clinton and others recollected Dingell's tenacity, friendship and often acerbic wit.
"Let's be honest, one of the reasons none of us would have missed this," Clinton joked, "is that this (is) the only time we were in the same room with John Dingell that we got the last word in."
After a legislative career that lasted from 1955 to 2015, Dingell, Clinton remarked, turned to Twitter, employing sharp, often comic remarks to gain a following of hundreds of thousands of people.
"Until his last day on Earth, John Dingell was doing," Clinton said. "When his body wouldn’t work anymore and his mind wouldn’t stop, he turned to America’s national obsession, tweeting, and became a Zen master."
Other speakers included former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, and U.S. Reps. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and John Lewis, D-Georgia. Other dignitaries in the church included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Upton, who would go on to succeed Dingell as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and remained a longtime friend of the Dingells, spoke of his long friendship with John Dingell. He also spoke of how, when Dingell took office in 1955 to replace his own father, said, "If I can be half the man my father was, I will feel a great success."
"Mr. Chairman, let me assure you, your dad would be awfully proud," Upton said.
Upton, despite being in the opposition party, was among those who pushed to have the committee room named after Dingell after he became the longest-serving member of Congress in 2014.
Lewis, a civil rights leader who has been in Congress since 1987, reminded people of Dingell's vote for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which led to a tough primary against a fellow Democrat, former U.S. Rep. John Lesinski Jr., who voted against the bill. It was one of the few tough elections Dingell ever faced.
"John didn't run away from his decision ... He stood on the courage of his conviction and won that primary by 5,000 votes... People respect you when you stand up for what you believe," Lewis said.
"Thank you for your friendship. I will miss you. … but I do deeply believe in my heart that we will see you in the morning."
The service at Holy Trinity in Washington attracted a large number of legislators, especially since many of those who had expected to be able to attend the service in Dearborn on Tuesday had their flights turned back because of bad weather in Detroit.
Clinton, who was in office from 1993 to 2001, was one of 11 presidents in office during Dingell's remarkable tenure.
While not a big hunter, Clinton was known to have taken at least one trip to Maryland's Eastern Shore to go hunting with Dingell and another legislator, U.S. Rep. Bill Brewster, D-Oklahoma. A late start, however, led to the men taking only one duck, which Clinton later had stuffed for Dingell.
"I’ve been in a duck blind with him when it was so cold, the ducks wouldn’t come out," Clinton remembered, " and I said to him, 'Look on the bright side — it saved us a lot of criticism from the animal rights people."
"He never snuck around behind your back," Clinton went on, talking about how Dingell, when he disagreed with you politically, let you know it and didn't shy away from a fight, even with a friend. "He didn’t say one thing behind your back and then call somebody to get a little press with someone else ... He was an old-fashioned man who did things in an old-fashioned way that we should adopt for new times."
Boehner remembered how Dingell always badgered him about quitting smoking and how he offered him advice when Boehner first became a committee chairman.
In his remarks, Hoyer, who served with Dingell for more than three decades and remained a longtime friend, reminded those in attendance of how tough Dingell could be.
He remembered a time when Dingell, who as chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee vastly expanded its reach, quickly closed a vote when he saw that he was going to lose the balloting on some measure.
Hoyer remembered Dingell saying, "You may have the votes but I still have the gavel."
Hoyer saw Dingell just before he died.
"He knew the end was nearing… but even at the threshold of death, he was in command. He was concerned. He was ready for the next day. The next tweet. The next fight. As Debbie said, he was classic John Dingell. But that was how I will always remember him ... Godspeed Big John."
Dingell, during his tenure, rose to become one of the most influential members of the House, helping to write and pass some of the most significant legislation enacted by Congress during that period, including Medicare, the passage of which he presided over in 1965; the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. He also helped craft and pass the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, in 2010.
His wife was elected to his seat after he stepped down.