Vander Jagt, a Representative and Orator, Dies at Age 75

Posted June 22, 2007 at 6:42pm

Guy Vander Jagt, a former Michigan Representative, renowned orator and devoted Republican, died on June 22 at age 75 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. [IMGCAP(1)]

Vander Jagt, who was born Aug. 26, 1931, in Cadillac, Mich., began his political career in the Michigan Senate but quickly moved into the federal realm.

He was first elected to the U.S. House by a special election for Michigan’s 2nd district in 1966, when then-Rep. Robert Griffin (R) was appointed as a consensus candidate to the Senate seat vacated after the death of Patrick McNamara (D). Vander Jagt originally had run against Griffin in that race, before dropping out and supporting him.

Throughout his more than 25 years of service in the House of Representatives, Vander Jagt became famous for his oratory aptitude — a skill he honed while attending Hope College in Holland, Mich. (School records state that he is the only person to have ever won three consecutive Michigan Debate Championships, and he also won a National Oratorical Championship.)

“Since he was first elected to the House in 1966, Congressman Vander Jagt electrified audiences with his wit, his eloquence, and his enthusiasm,” Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan said in a statement June 22. “Few Republicans then or since could match his skill behind the podium, and his enthusiasm for spreading the Republican message.”

This proficiency was noticed by many national figures at the time, including former President Ronald Reagan, who chose him to deliver the 1980 keynote address at the Republican National Convention in Detroit. His collected papers also state Reagan had considered him as a possible candidate for vice president.

During his political tenure, Vander Jagt was sent by then-President Richard Nixon to be his personal envoy to Asia for matters involving the “Nixon Doctrine.” As a Congressman, Vander Jagt served on, among others, the Foreign Affairs and Ways and Means committees — on which he helped pass the Comprehensive Multilateral Trade Agreement.

As a Congressman he was known for his efforts to connect with constituents, conducting yearly “Trailer Tours” to every county he represented and hosting an annual bratwurst “Fry the Guy” fundraiser. He was well-respected among colleagues and known as a very agreeable person.

“Everybody just remembered Guy for the kind of person he was,” said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who defeated Vander Jagt in the Republican primary of 1992. “He was someone you could get along with.”

Hoekstra noted after his defeat of Vander Jagt: “Guy was still on Capitol Hill and there was never a sense or hint of bitterness.”

Outside of elected politics, Vander Jagt played a pivotal role in Republican politics, earning the distinction of the longest-serving national political party committee chairman with 18 years at the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“His greatest passion was his family, but not far behind stood the goal of building a Republican Majority in the U.S. House,” former Michigan Sen. Spencer Abraham said of Vander Jagt in a statement. “Indeed the GOP’s 1994 return to power was in large part fueled by the candidate recruitment efforts Guy Vander Jagt led in the 1990 and 1992 elections.”

Before entering elected politics and after leaving, Vander Jagt utilized his law degree from the University of Michigan to practiced at both Warner Norcross & Judd LLP in Grand Rapids, Mich., as well as Baker & Hostetler LLP. He also attended Georgetown University Law School and Yale Divinity School.

Born to Dutch immigrant parents, he was knighted to the House of Orange by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 1986 and in 1991 received the Outstanding Dutch-American of the Year award from the Netherlands Amity Trust Association.

Funeral services for Vander Jagt will be held in Dimnent Chapel on Hope College’s campus on Thursday. A memorial service also will be held for him in Washington, although details were unavailable as of press time. He will be buried in Cadillac, Mich.

Vander Jagt is survived by his wife, Carol, and daughter, Virginia.