John Dingell honored, remembered during funeral at Divine Child
By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — An emotional U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) walked hand-in-hand with former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, as the casket of her husband, John Dingell Jr., entered the chapel at Church of the Divine Child for the funeral Jan. 12 for the former congressman who died Feb. 7.
The funeral was one of two scheduled for the man who holds the record for longest tenure in either houses of Congress in the nation’s history. The other is scheduled for Thursday in Washington, D.C.
Organ music played and hymns were sung by the choir inside the church as the hundreds of mourners gathered and throughout the mass.
The casket pallbearers included some of Dingell’s former staff as the casket was wheeled in. Following a prayer, Debbie Dingell and Dingell’s son, Third Circuit Court Judge Christopher Dingell, placed a white pall over the casket.
Dingell’s daughter-in-law, Cindy Dingell, read from the book of Acts of the Apostles and his sister-in-law Kate Bartley followed by reading from Ecclesiastes during the funeral.
St. Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Church Pastor the Rev. Terrence Kerner spoke to Debbie Dingell directly as she sat front row saying the city of Dearborn, state of Michigan and entire nation was mourning with her.
“You felt it for days now and especially yesterday, the turnout of thousands of people literally and you stood there embracing, shaking hands, receiving many accolades about your husband,” Kerner said. “They were all simple ones, warm ones, stories told. So we extend our embrace to you.”
During his eulogy, Biden said he thinks a lot of people owe the Dingell family for sharing John Dingell with them during his time in public office and in retirement. He added that he looked up to Dingell because he was one of the people who were better than Biden at what they did.
“I can sum it up in one word why I cared so much for John Dingell,” Biden said. “Like my father, he believed everyone, everyone, without exception was entitled to be treated with dignity. Dignity was how John walked, dignity was how John talked, dignity was how John carried himself.
“More than that, it was how he treated everyone, and I mean everyone. John knew the people of Michigan and people of America because he knew the meaning of the word ‘dignity.’ Everything he worked on was rooted in that knowledge and the belief that every single solitary person wanted and deserved to be treated with dignity, wanted to be recognized no matter who they were, just recognized for their worth, and the job they did.”
U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-6th District) and about 60 other Congressional delegates were scheduled to speak and attend the funeral but were unable to make it after their planes could not land at Detroit Metro Airport due to sleet and freezing rain.
Following the funeral in Dearborn, Dingell’s casket was flown to Washington, D.C., and driven past the East Plaza of the U.S. Capitol about 4 p.m. in a motorcade. The Feb. 14 funeral mass will be held at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, and is open to the public. A reception at Georgetown University will follow the service. A World War II veteran, Dingell will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
Visitation for John Dingell was held at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center on Feb. 11 where thousands of people waited in line more than an hour to pay their respects.
Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. said Dingell was Dearborn’s champion and always there for the city so he was proud the those in the city of Dearborn were there for him and his wife during the events of the past week.
“I am grateful to the men and women working for the city of Dearborn who acted with a high-level of professionalism and grace,” O’Reilly said in a statement. “Their compassion and commitment matched his devotion to us. I want to especially thank the members of the Police, Fire and Recreation departments. I also want to recognize the contributions of the Department of Public Works and other city employees.
“Combined, their efforts allowed thousands to express their condolences in a meaningful way. Saying goodbye is hard for all of us, but it’s been made a little easier through the sincere efforts of many.”
Police Chief Ronald Haddad called Dingell, “an unrivaled intellect who fought for the communities he represented and struck a complex balance for the common good of an unyielding nation.”
“Congressman Dingell’s warm and engaging smile made the least of us feel like close friends,” Haddad said in a Facebook post. “He was a shameless fighter for the needs of the American people and history will not waiver, he will forever stand among the greatest of his generation. On behalf of the Dearborn Police Department we offer our condolences to the entire Dingell family.”
During their Feb. 12 meeting, City Council members offered their condolences to the Dingell family and also shared their memories of John Dingell.
Councilman Michael Sareini described Dingell as a unique man and always helped everybody that he could, including Sareini’s bother.
“When my brother went into the service — enlisted — he was unaware of a program that was out there that the congressman let my mom know about,” Sareini said. “My brother scored well on it and today is now commanding a naval warship and I do believe that it has a lot to do with Congressman Dingell leading us in the right direction.
“I can tell you for me, he’s always told me, ‘You and (your) wife, Deborah, are blessed with good names” — talking about political — but he’s saying, ‘You still have to do your work and earn your own way.’ He always would remind me, especially at the parades, that ‘Mike, you’re not a politician, you’re a pubic servant and it really does take to heart.’”
Councilman Robert Abraham reflected on how fortunate the people and community were to have known Dingell and have him represent the city.
“As mentioned, John had a unique way of connecting with all kinds of different people in this community, as diverse as it is, was really blessed to have John understand us and understand all the people in this community and find some ways to bring solutions to us from Washington, which is no easy task,” Abraham said. “He treated everyone with dignity, every time I met John — I think it took him one second to come up with a compliment and that’s just how he was.
“He was genuinely happy to compliment the people around him, he was an unbelievable public servant and worked tirelessly. To me he was a tremendous leader, a mentor and I’ll always look at him as a pillar of stability for our community.”
A press release from the American Arab Civil Rights League reflected on Dingell’s work for many laws, including civil rights, health care, Medicare and Medicaid, also stating that he fought hard to save the auto industry, and hence, save thousands of jobs and save the state’s economy.
“John Dingell represented an era where public servants served with distinction, honor and for the love of country,” AACRL Chairman Nasser Beydoun said. “America lost the great patriot and we lost a great friend. He will be missed. His legacy will live on to inspire generations to come. Our prayers go out to his family and our dear friend Debbie Dingell,”
Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman William Clay Ford Jr. said that during his 20 years as a chairman he considered Dingell a friend and advisor.
“John was a larger-than-life legend whose presence will be deeply missed at Ford,” Ford said. “Even on the most divisive issues at the most difficult of times, he was unwavering in his efforts to find common ground. He constantly reminded us as a company and as an industry that we either work together or we fail separately.
“John devoted his life to serving the people of Michigan, and his legacy continues today with his wife, Debbie. His passing is a reminder that we need more leaders who are willing to find compromise and bring people together for the greater good.”
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)