Former House Minority Leader Bob Michel Dies at 93

In this photo taken Oct. 29, 2013, former House Minority Leader Bob Michel speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington.

In this photo taken Oct. 29, 2013, former House Minority Leader Bob Michel speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

The longest-serving US House minority leader has died. Peoria native and former House Republican Leader Bob Michel died at an Arlington Hospital of pneumonia Friday. He was 93. The Illinois lawmaker was first elected in 1956 and spent 38 years in Congress. His skill at seeking compromise with the Democrats was critical in helping Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush pursue their agendas during their presidential terms.

Michel served 19 terms in the minority and retired one election too soon to be part of the Republican House majority that swept to power in 1994.
He stood on the sidelines as an ebullient Newt Gingrich of Georgia took the role of House speaker. Gingrich praised Michel that day, but had considered him too pliable and conciliatory with the Democrats.

In Peoria, his father was a French immigrant and his mother was of German descent.

After graduating from Peoria High School, he joined the army as World War II broke out. He was among the troops who stormed the beaches of Normandy, earning two bronze stars and a purple heart. After the war, he graduated from Bradley University in 1948.

Fellow Peorian and former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood worked for Michel as a House staffer, before succeeding him in Congress in 1995. His Peoria legacy includes the Bob Michel Student Center at Bradley, the bridge over Illinois Route 40 and the VA outpatient clinic.

Michel served as House minority leader from 1981 until 1995.

He bade farewell to his colleagues in November 1994.

"And I just want to say to all the members on both sides of the aisle how much I appreciate the camaraderie and the cordiality that I’ve enjoyed during my tenure in this body," he said.

Michel's visitation is Friday, February 24th, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Wilton Mortuary in Peoria. A memorial service is planned Saturday the 25th at 10 a.m. at Bradley University.

18th District Congressman and House Minority Whip, Robert H. Michel's Official Portrait in the 95th United States Congress.

Photo Credit: Congressional Portrait Directory

GOP Congressman Rodney Davis of Taylorville issued a statement.

“Bob Michel was a war hero and one of the most respected members of Congress of all time," he said. "His 38 years of service in the U.S. House of Representatives and the incredible footprint he has left on Central Illinois and this country will never be forgotten."

Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said Michel’s replacement as Republican leader in the U.S. House by Newt Gingrich "marked the end of an era of civility in Congress."

"I have known Bob for 35 years," he said. "We had neighboring congressional districts downstate. We campaigned for each other’s opponents. But there was never a moment when we weren’t respectful and friends.  His legacy goes beyond his years of service. He left a remarkable protégé in Ray LaHood who to this day embodies Bob Michel’s extraordinary values.”

Story source: Illinois Public Radio