Prominent U.S. political leaders convened Thursday at Holy Trinity Catholic Church to commemorate the life of John Dingell Jr. (CAS ’49, LAW ’52), a former representative of Michigan and the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history.
At 92 years old, Dingell died at his home in Dearborn, Mich., on Feb. 7, following complications from prostate cancer. Notable attendees at Dingell’s funeral included former Speaker John Boehner, former President Bill Clinton (SFS ’68), former Secretary Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Bill Clinton paid tribute to Dingell’s work ethic and dedication to public service in his eulogy at the funeral, which was open to the public.
“He was a remarkable man,” Clinton said. “A patriot, in some cases, without peer in the history of America. He spent more time in the Congress trying to fulfill the Founders’ admonition to form a more perfect union than anyone else.”
A reception was held in the Healey Family Student Center after the funeral. Dingell’s wife Debbie Dingell (SFS ‘75, GRD ‘96) (D-Mi.), who assumed his seat after he stepped down, was in attendance at the closed event. John Dingell will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday morning.
A service for Dingell was held earlier in the week in Dearborn, Mich., where former Vice President Joe Biden gave a eulogy. Biden remembered Dingell for his commitment to his work as a representative.
“Generations of Americans are going to study his work, know they are better off because he lived,” Biden said. “Remember a man who could always be found standing firm on the right side of history. And when he had to, stand alone.”
Dingell had represented what is now Michigan’s 12th district from 1955 to 2014, a record 59 years. He was in the House of Representatives during the administrations of 11 of the United States’ 45 presidents, and for more than a quarter of Congress’s existence.
Dingell’s legacy as a politician and a public figure will outlast his death, former President Clinton said in 2005, Dingell’s 50th year in the legislative body.
“Presidents come and presidents go,” Clinton said. “John Dingell stays forever.”
Up to the end of his life, Dingell remained a part of the Georgetown community, regularly visiting campus, speaking at Georgetown events and attending John Carroll Weekend.
Dingell honored the 225th anniversary of Georgetown’s founding in the Congressional Record in January 2014 and praised the university for remaining true to its founding principles.
“I can attest to the University’s commitment to addressing the challenges faced by our society and its consistent focus on developing students who are ready to contribute to future prosperity and positive civic leadership,” Dingell wrote.
Dingell’s family possessed strong ties to the university as well. Both his brother James Dingell (C ’54, GRD ’57, GRD ’63) and his wife Debbie also attended Georgetown.
Dingell was honored by the Law’s school with its Robert F. Drinan, S.J. Law Alumni Public Service Award in 2013.
Dingell was known, however, as much for his accomplishments in the House as he was for the length of his tenure, Rebecca Hollister (COL ’21), chair of Georgetown University College Democrats, wrote in an email to The Hoya.
“We are very appreciative of Representative Dingell’s service to our country, its people, and the Democratic party,” Hollister wrote. “He was essential in the fights for healthcare and welfare for all who needed it in the nation and for that we are immensely grateful. Our loving thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.”
From 1981 to 1995 and again from 2007 to 2009, Dingell chaired the Energy and Commerce Committee, an influential committee with a wide-ranging policy portfolio, affecting legislation from consumer protection to the environment. Dingell helped pass landmark legislation in the House of Representatives, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 passage of Medicare.
After graduating the university, Dingell went on to hold a number of jobs in the legal profession, working for a private firm and as a prosecutor in Wayne County, Mich. When his father died of tuberculosis in 1955, Dingell ran in and won a special election for his seat in the House, representing a district outside of Detroit.
In 2014, after he announced that he would retire the following year, Dingell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor awarded by the U.S. government.
Dingell was dedicated to serving his constituents throughout his time in Congress, former Secretary of State James Baker wrote in a Feb 8. statement following Dingell’s passing.
“America was built on the shoulders of great leaders like John Dingell who dedicated their lives to serving our nation,” Baker said.