A longtime Congressman who represented west-central Missouri for 34 years has died. Ike Skelton served 17 terms as the representative for Missouri’s 4th Congressional District. He died Monday at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Virginia, at the age of 81.
The cause of his death has not been released, but longtime congressional staffer Russell Orban said he entered the hospital a week before his death.
Skelton was a conservative Democrat who specialized in military issues, serving as chairman of the House Armed Service Committee from 2007 to 2011. He was recently elected chairman of the National World War I Centennial Commission. His memoir, Achieve the Honorable: A Missouri Congressman’s Journey from Warm Springs to Washington, was just published two weeks ago.
In 2010 Skelton took the floor to say farewell. He told his fellow lawmakers he had “lived a charmed life,” but as a youngster, learned how one’s life can change in an instant when he contracted polio. He said he learned important lessons about life while being treated at the Warm Springs Foundation in Georgia, “Never let illness define you, never be limited by the expectations of others, never give up and never stop working.”
Polio prevented Skelton from joining the military as he had wanted. During his career he was known as an advocate for the military and a defender of Missouri’s bases. In his farewell address he spoke with reverence about the armed forces and the need for civilians to support them.
“The men and women in uniform who form the backbone of our security can not devote all to protect us if we fail to provide what they need to perform their missions, stay safe in the field and take good care of themselves and the families at home. Keeping America safe demands a national committment to military readiness.”
He added, “I’ve always considered each young man and woman in uniform as a son or daughter. They are national treasures and their sacrifices can not be taken for granted. They’re not chess pieces to be moved about on a board. Each one is irreplaceable.”
Of his long time spent in Washington D.C., Skelton said, “You can’t do the job as a member of Congress for so many years unless you love it, and I do. It’s a labor of love, and to paraphrase my fellow Missourian, Harry Truman, I’ve done my damnedest every single day. I will forever be grateful for the trust Missourians have placed in me through the years and for the opportunity to serve Missouri’s 4th Congressional District, U.S. House of Representatives and the United States of America.”
In a statement, Governor Jay Nixon (D) called Skelton a “role model,” who “inspired us all with his quiet dignity and tireless commitment to America’s men and women in uniform.” Nixon added, “Congressman Skelton embodied the true meaning of public service and will forever be remembered as a leader who left a legacy of greater prosperity and security for his district, our state and our nation.”
Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Roy Temple called Skelton a, “Missourian, a statesman and a champion of a strong and sensible national defense, and above all he was a gentleman.” Temple calls Skelton’s passing, “A loss for Missouri and the nation.”
Missouri’s two Senators also remember Skelton in statements. Senator Roy Blunt (R) says, “It was a great privilege to serve Missouri in the Congress with Ike Skelton and to benefit from his friendship and advice. No member of Congress was more dedicated to America’s defense and those who defend us than Ike Skelton. He loved our country and its history and will be remembered for his contributions to both.”
Senator Claire McCaskill (D) says, “Missouri lost a giant. Ike Skelton represented the very best of Missouri and fought tirelessly for the state he loved. Those of us lucky enough to call him a friend know that he lived the Missouri values of compromise and common sense, and in his half-century of service he showed how Missouri could be a leader in contributing to the safety and security of our nation. I join all Missourians in sending my thoughts and prayers to Patty and the rest of Ike’s family. I’ll miss him dearly.”
Skelton was defeated in 2010 by Republican Vicky Hartzler. She issued a statement as well, calling Skelton a, “respected friend,” and saying, “I have appreciated our conversations over the past two-and-a-half years and the commitment we shared to see Missouri’s 4th District prosper. I am thankful for Ike’s tireless efforts on behalf of our men and women in uniform and know our country is safer as a result of his unwavering leadership. My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”
Skelton was born in Lexington on December 20, 1931. He was first elected Lafayette County prosecutor and later to the Missouri Senate before being elected to Congress in 1976. After losing his seat in Congress he had joined a Kansas City law firm and maintained homes in Lexington and in Virginia.
He died surrounded by his wife, Patricia, his sons and their families as well as Orban.