Rep. Debbie Dingell talks about loss and friendships at memorial service

Michigan Democrat’s late husband and 22 other former lawmakers remembered

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., spoke Thursday about her late husband’s legacy and friendships at the Association of Former Members of Congress memorial service in Statuary Hall for those who died over the last year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., spoke Thursday about her late husband’s legacy and friendships at the Association of Former Members of Congress memorial service in Statuary Hall for those who died over the last year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 27, 2019 at 7:21am

Current and former lawmakers and members of their families gathered Thursday to honor senators and members of the House who died over the past year. They left the tensions of impeachment and a divided Congress at the door, coming together to honor 23 former lawmakers.

Former Texas Rep. Martin Frost, the current president of the Association of Former Members of Congress, led the memorial service in Statuary Hall.

Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell had a heartfelt message for the families at the memorial, that although she is a lawmaker herself, she knows what they’re enduring.

“To the families of those honored tonight: I understand,” she said. “I miss John every day,” she said, referring to former Rep. John D. Dingell, who died in February.

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The congresswoman read “Eternal Father” by William Whiting as part of the service.

Other current lawmakers who participated in the event included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who read a selection from Plutarch, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who read Winston Churchill’s “Let Us Be Contented.”

After each member’s name was read aloud, a bell tolled and the family was asked to stand.

Alaska Republican Don Young, the longest-serving Republican in the history of the House and the dean of the chamber, also spoke.

“The bells have rung, I know those people,” he said. “I have served with every one of those people.”

Young has been a member of the House for 46 years. He read “Because You Have Lived” by Ralph Waldo Emerson during the service.

In addition to honoring her husband, who served in the House for 60 years, Dingell also spoke of his friendship with Young.

“I want you to know how much he loved Don Young and how happy he was when you became dean. Don Young knew John almost 20 years longer than I did. They hunted together. That shouldn’t surprise you,” she told the crowd.

The 23 lawmakers honored Thursday served a combined 456 years in Congress and from the 83rd to the 116th Congress, according to Frost.

The ceremony also honored trailblazing journalist and Capitol Hill denizen Cokie Roberts, died away earlier this month. Frost called Roberts an honorary member of the Association of Former Members of Congress.

Roberts didn’t serve in Congress but covered the institution for decades, her coverage informed by insider knowledge gained while growing up on Capitol Hill. Her father, Thomas Hale Boggs Sr., was a former Democratic House majority leader and served in Congress for more than three decades before his plane disappeared on a campaign flight in Alaska in 1972. Her mother, Lindy Claiborne Boggs, took her husband’s seat and served for 17 years.

Former members honored:
The Hon. Birch Evans Bayh Jr.
The Hon. Bill Burlison
The Hon. William Broomfield
President George H. W. Bush
The Hon. Thad Cochran
The Hon. Michael Allen “Mac” Collins
The Hon. John D. Dingell Jr.
The Hon. Ralph Hall
The Hon. James Hansen
The Hon. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings
The Hon. Walter “Dee” Huddleston
The Hon. Walter B. Jones. Jr.
The Hon. Marilyn Lloyd
The Hon. Richard G. Lugar
The Hon. Manuel Lujan Jr.
The Hon. Jan Meyers
The Hon. Jim Moody
The Hon. Dick Nichols
The Hon. Ed Pastor
The Hon. Elizabeth Patterson
The Hon. Ellen O. Tauscher
The Hon. Joseph Tydings
The Hon. Harris Wofford