DETROIT (NBC) - Former Rep. John Dingell, D-Michigan, the longest-serving member of Congress who played a key role in many pieces of landmark legislation, has died. He was 92. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year.
Dingell first arrived to Congress in 1955, taking over the seat held by his father John Dingell, Sr., who had died earlier that year, and the younger Dingell continued to serve in the House for more than 59 years. He announced in 2014 that he would not seek re-election and instead his wife, Debbie Dingell, ran for his seat and is now serving her third term.
The congresswoman tweeted Wednesday, “Friends and colleagues know me and know I would be in Washington right now unless something was up. I am home with John and we have entered a new phase. He is my love and we have been a team for nearly 40 years.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered flags lowered to half-staff Friday to honor Dingell.
The flags will be returned to full-staff two days after his interment.
Dingell first experienced Capitol Hill as a House Page from 1938 to 1943 during which time he witnessed historic moments.
“We saw some rather great things,” he told the House Historian in an oral interview in 2012. The President [Franklin D. Roosevelt] declared war the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor [December 8, 1941]. We saw Winston Churchill on the 26th of December, 1941, when he came to address the Congress. We saw the President give State of the Union messages, and, not infrequently, to address the Capitol or the House on other matters. It was a very enriching experience.
Dingell served in the Army during World War II and was one of the war’s last veterans to serve in Congress. After the war, he attended Georgetown University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a law degree.
He helped sponsor the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1957, helped pass Medicare in the House and sponsored the Endangered Species Act. And while he initially support the Vietnam war, he later opposed it and called on President Richard Nixon to withdraw U.S. troops. He later became a key supporter of the Affordable Care Act.
Former President Barack Obama awarded Dingell the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014, saying that the congressman “build a peerless record of his own” over the course of six decades.
“He gaveled in the vote for Medicare, helped lead the fight for the Civil Rights Act. For more than half a century, in every single Congress, John introduced a bill for comprehensive health care. That is, until he didn’t have to do it anymore. I could not have been prouder to have John by my side when I signed the Affordable Care Act into law,” Obama said.
Dingell also chaired the House Energy and Commerce Committee for several terms, but lost the gavel to former Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who contended that Dingell slowed environmental legislation because of his ties to the auto industry.
After his congressional career, Dingell developed a new reputation for being a prolific and hilarious tweeter.
“Wife is working late tonight. Might eat ice cream for dinner. #YOLO,” he said in one tweet.
He tweeted in 2014, “Staff has now informed me of what a Kardashian is. I'm only left with more questions.”
Dingell also posted tweets mocking his old age. “Golly. You don't tweet for a week or two & you start getting calls at the house asking if you're still kicking. Old people have lives, too.”
“Tried to watch @meetthepress and there was a damn soccer game on instead. What is this @chucktodd? I didn't fight in the Revolutionary War to have to watch soccer on a Sunday morning, @chucktodd.”
The WILX Digital Team contributed to this report.