Washington Bids Farewell to John Dingell

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The remains of John Dingell depart Holy Trinity Church on Feb. 14, as Rep. Debbie Dingell, flanked by Hillary and Bill Clinton, follow. Photo by Patrick G. Ryan.

Congress held a morning session in Georgetown today — for its longest serving member of the House of Representatives, John David Dingell. The connection was his faith as well as his alma mater: Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church for a funeral Mass and nearby Georgetown University.

The church on 36th Street was overfilling with love — and with people — for Dingell, who died Feb. 7 at the age of 92 from complications due to prostate cancer in Dearborn, Michigan.

It was all familiar faces and old-home week, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Speaker John Boehner and others looking on as former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton entered the church with the widow, Rep. Deborah Dingell.

One of Bill Clinton’s wisecracks at the pulpit underlined the moment with so many politicians (even presidential candidates) at hand — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former Rep. John Delaney, Sen. Ed Markey, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others — as he motioned toward the casket of John Dingell: “John, we got the last word.”

Remembrances began just after the start of Mass. First up was Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan. He spoke of Dingell’s signature greeting — “Better for seeing you” — and his bipartisanship, Polish jokes notwithstanding. Dingell easily moved from House committee work to fishing to ballet, Upton said, imagining him waiting for us at special airport terminal in heaven.

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia hailed Dingell as “a giant.” “Brave, bold … he loved people and they loved him back.” Lewis concluded that after all the ways of work and the world, only “love is everlasting.”

Boehner recounted how Dingell was a mentor, a practitioner of tough love — and chastened him for smoking. “He wasn’t all honey and not vinegar,” he said, stressing Dingell’s impressive legislative record.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer got to know Dingell slowly, but spent 33 years with him in the House and was at his side last Wednesday as he was dying. “Tough … but a gentle soul, intolerant of injustice … and of malfeasance … sincere, persuasive … sometimes acerbic … can I get an amen?” Hoyer also spoke of Dingell’s wife, “lovely Deborah, who was his strength,” and added: “The story of John is the story of the American dream.”

Bill Clinton was the final politician to eulogize Dingell: “I got a chance to talk to him, and his mind was clear … you ride the horse ’til the race is over.” The 42nd president continued: “He was a stand-up guy — an old-fashioned man with old-fashioned ideas that we should adapt for a new time … He was a world-class doer … a zen master of tweeting.”

Of the congressman’s 59 years of service, Clinton said that Dingell waved it off: “Anyone can sit in a chair and take up space. What do you do with it?”

In his homily, House Chaplain Rev. Patrick Conroy, S.J. — who celebrated the Mass with Holy Trinity Pastor Kevin Gillespie, S.J., and Rev. Tim O’Brien, S.J.— meditated upon the Beatitudes of Jesus and how the themes of “poor in spirit” or “merciful” were exemplified by the life of Rep. John Dingell.

A World War II veteran, Dingell will be interred in Arlington National Cemetery tomorrow morning.

 

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