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Former Sen. Charles Percy Dies at 91

Courtesy of Illinois State Society
Sen. Charles H. Percy, left, with state Sen. Mark Rhoads and Illinois Gov. James Thompson at the 1980 Republican National Convention in Detroit.

Updated: 12:36 p.m.

Former Sen. Charles Percy (R-Ill.) died early today at a Washington, D.C., hospice. He was 91, and suffering from Alzheimer's disease, according to news reports.

Percy served three terms in the Senate from 1967 through 1984, including four years as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, before being defeated for re-election by Democratic challenger and then-Rep. Paul Simon.

Percy was a liberal Republican, staunchly opposed to the Vietnam War and generally skeptical of military spending. He was an early advocate of naming a special prosecutor to investigate the Watergate scandal, and was on President Richard Nixon's notorious enemies list.

In the mid-1960s, Percy was widely touted as a rising figure of national prominence in the Republican Party, and he once graced the cover of "Time" magazine, which declared him the new leader of the moderate wing of the GOP. The Associated Press noted that Percy "was once mentioned as a possible presidential candidate but came to power when moderate-to-liberal Republicans were becoming unfashionable. He ended up backing Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976 rather than pursuing it himself."

Percy's daughter, Sharon Rockefeller, is married to Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), and is the CEO of Washington's public broadcasting operation WETA. In a statement issued on behalf of the Rockefeller and Percy families, Sen. Rockefeller said of his father-in-law: "He led by example with his self-confidence, relishing the company of people who challenged and informed his thinking, including his outstanding business and Senate staff. He provoked animated discussions around the dinner table and roared with laughter at Capitol Steps skits at his expense. His voice was strong and deep, and it filled and warmed a room.

"He taught us humility and respectfulness as, win or lose, he would show up at the Chicago Loop the day after each election to thank the voters. He taught us generosity, as he tried to help others as he'd been helped along the way. He taught us how powerful unconditional love can be."

Rockefeller added that Percy's "insistence on a balanced perspective in his public life, (calling himself 'fervently moderate'), helped us understand it is both possible and preferable to live in a world without partisanship."

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