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‘John knew them:’ Joe Biden remembers John Dingell as a man of the people


Look at the pages of history, former Vice President Joe Biden said, and see Rep. John Dingell standing there.

“Generations of Americans are going to study his work, know they are better off because he lived,” Biden said Tuesday, delivering the eulogy at Dingell’s funeral in Dearborn, Mich. “Remember a man who could always be found standing firm on the right side of history. And when he had to, stand alone."

Friends, family, colleagues and dignitaries crowded the Church of the Divine Child on Tuesday morning for the first of two services to honor the longest-serving member of Congress. Dingell, whose legendary 59-year tenure in the House stretched from the presidencies of Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama, died Thursday at 92.

Weather conditions forced a plane carrying members of Congress — including Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who were to deliver eulogies at the service — to turn back to Washington after circling Detroit for an hour, the Detroit Free Press reported. Still, hundreds braved the icy commute in Dingell’s home state to celebrate the life of the Democratic icon, who played a hand in key legislative triumphs over his almost 60 years of elected service.

“All across the country today, Americans are celebrating the life of John Dingell,” Biden said. “Not because they knew John, but because they knew John knew them.”

A longtime chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Dingell’s many contributions to society include efforts to ensure clean air and water, safer food and healthcare for Americans. He was also a champion for the American auto industry, which employed thousands in Dingell’s southeastern Michigan district that stretched from Ann Arbor to the edge of Detroit.



Dignity, Biden said, was at the core of all Dingell did — recognition and respect for the dignity of every man and woman.

“He's a man who knew where he came from, and he knew public service wasn't a title you wear but a shift that you work, like everybody else,” the former vice president said. “His constituents, I think, loved him for it. They knew and respected him.”

When Dingell was first elected and delivered his first speech in Congress, he picked up a baton left to him by his father, former Rep. John Dingell Sr. “It’s our job now to pick up that baton he talked about in his first speech and pass it forward,” Biden said.


“We mourn today because we knew John,” he added. “And we stand up straighter, we work harder, and we'll face tomorrow with sharp minds and steel in our bones and dignity and respect for all men and women if we really want to do him any service at all.”

Later on Tuesday, a motorcade with Dingell’s casket was due to pass the U.S. Capitol, where for years he served as a force in the House. A second funeral for Dingell will be held Thursday in Washington, where former President Bill Clinton and former House Speaker John Boehner will speak. He will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, the wife of John Dingell for 38 years who took over his congressional seat when he retired in 2015, walked next to Biden, blinking away tears as she followed the dark wooden hearse out of the Michigan church.


Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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