Former Rep. Philip Crane, R-Ill., an early leader of the conservative movement, died Sunday of complications from lung cancer. He was 84.
Crane's former chief of staff Kirt Johnson said Crane was surrounded by his family when he died at his daughter Rebekah's home in Jefferson, Md. Crane gained national attention as a staunch conservative during his 35 years in Congress. He served in the House from 1969 to 2005, and was first elected in a special election to succeed Donald Rumsfeld, who stepped down to join the Nixon administration. While in Congress, Crane founded the Republican Study Committee, a popular caucus among House conservatives today, helped start the Heritage Foundation and served as chairman of the American Conservative Union.
"He was a leader in his time of conservative thinking in the House of Representatives," former Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, said in a Monday phone interview. Archer chaired the Ways and Means Committee and sat next to Crane in the full committee. They also became close friends while carpooling to the Capitol from their homes in McLean, Va.
Before serving in Congress, Crane gained notoriety as an adept campaigner for Barry Goldwater and as the author of "The Democrat's Dilemma."
Crane was a history professor at Bradley University and headmaster at Chicago's Westminster Academy before he decided to run for Congress in 1969. In Congress, Crane established himself as a unabashed advocate for conservative causes, including reducing taxes and promoting free trade.
“When I think about him, I think about a truly principled conservative and just a great human being,” said Johnson, who worked for Crane from 1989 to 1999 and also served as his campaign manager.
Crane chaired the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade and helped craft the North American Free Trade Agreement and the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which he co-authored with Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott of Washington and Charles B. Rangel of New York.
Johnson said Crane and Rangel worked well together, sharing a similar sense of humor.
“[Crane] believed strongly in what he believed in, and he would have a vigorous debate," said Johnson, "but behind the dais, he’d be back-slapping with Charlie Rangel."
Johnson said Crane was gregarious and "a great jokester." Crane could do a spot-on impression of President Ronald Reagan, and would sometimes take on the presidential persona when making phone calls.
Crane ran against Reagan for a brief period when he vied for the 1980 GOP presidential nomination, through he ultimately withdrew from the primary and backed Reagan.
When Republicans took the majority in the House in 1994, Crane was finally able to advocate for his policies as a member of the majority.
“He was starting to despair that we would ever get the majority, and so when that happened he was just euphoric," said Johnson. "And he was able to push the agenda that he had so long pursued."
Ten years later, Crane was ousted by Democrat Melissa Bean. He would go on to work part-time at a lobbying firm.
Along with lawmaker and professor, Crane added songwriter to his résumé. In 1957, Crane wrote "Little Sandy Sleighfoot," a holiday song recorded by Jimmy Dean.
Johnson said as Crane's family surrounded him Sunday, they all began to sing his song, and Crane mouthed the words along with them.
Crane is survived by seven children, many grandchildren, his sister Judy and brothers David and Daniel, also a former member of Congress. His wife Arlene passed away in 2012.
According to the Chicago Tribune , a funeral service is scheduled for Saturday at the United Methodist Church in Hillsboro, Ind., followed by a burial at the Rose Hill Cemetery.