Former Rep. Howard Wolpe (second from right) earned a doctorate in African studies and was chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa.
While he was passionate about African issues, he balanced that well with working for his district, said Marda Robillard of Van Scoyoc Associates, who served as Wolpe's chief of staff from 1987 until his retirement.
He went home every weekend and provided excellent constituent services, which resulted in him being re-elected six times in the conservative area.
After leaving Congress, Wolpe ran an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in Michigan in 1994. He then served as the special envoy to the African Great Lakes region under President Bill Clinton until 2001.
He became director of the Africa program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in 2002 before leaving to once again serve in Africa as the special adviser for the Great Lakes region under President Barack Obama.
"Howard contributed most of his life to bringing civility to government relations and making this world a better place," Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said in a statement.
In 2006, tragedy struck when his wife, Judy, drowned off the coast of Guatemala while the couple were on vacation.
According to a report from Roll Call, Wolpe wrote in a letter, "Judy was my love, my partner and my anchor. She was a very special human being — in love with life and with people. She made all of us feel good just to be around her."
Wolpe eventually remarried. He is survived by his wife, Julie Fletcher, and a son, Michael.
While he was in Congress, Robillard recalled how Wolpe didn't vote on a party line — rather, he stuck to his moral compass, voting for what he believed in what was right.
"He had friends on both sides of the aisle," she said.
Indeed, one of his last public acts was an open letter to Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), published in the Battle Creek Enquirer, a local Michigan newspaper. Wolpe said in the letter that he had been friends with Upton for many years and had known him "to be honest, moderate, reasonable and conscientious" but that he was now disappointed "to see you morph into a right-wing extremist."
"Show some backbone and do the right thing," Wolpe wrote. "We simply must regain a sense of civility and rationality in our politics, and you have a chance now to make a significant contribution. I hope you seize it."
Upton's spokeswoman Meghan Kolassa said in a statement: "The paper back home ran Fred’s written response to Howard’s letter but more importantly, Fred reached out to Howard and they were able to have an open and honest conversation just as they have had throughout the many years they served as close Michigan colleagues. Howard never stopped working to make this world a better place. That will be his legacy throughout the world and right here in Kalamazoo."
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