A former U.S. lawmaker known for his bipartisanship has died.
Robert H. (Bob) Michel died Friday morning at the age of 93.
Michel represented the 18th Congressional District for 38 years before his retirement in January 1995.
He was first elected in 1956, succeeding fellow Republican Harold Velde of Pekin. Michel had previously worked as Velde’s administrative assistant.
“Dave Owen, the president of Bradley (University) at the time, said, ‘Hey, the judge in the neighboring county is looking for a man Friday because he running to replace Senator Everett Dirksen,’” Michel told reporters during a celebration of his 90th birthday in 2013.
“I said, gee, I didn’t have journalism, I didn’t have political science. I was a business administration major. He said, ‘Just go down and have the interview.’ That’s how it all started.”
Michel was born and raised in Peoria. He attended Peoria High School. He later attended Bradley University after World War II and graduated in 1948. A year out of Bradley, is when he began working for Velde.
Michel served as Minority Whip during his tenure and was Minority Leader his last 14 years in Congress.
Michel was known for his bipartisanship. He was good friends with Democratic U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski. Michel’s ability to get along with leaders on the other side of the aisle rankled some of his old school party colleagues.
“This has been a great district,” Michel said. “It’s kind of unbelieveable and indescribable but a very wonderful thing for me.”
During his tenure in Congress, Michel was also known for his boisterous voice, his belly laugh and the ability to carry a tune.
Michel said during his 90th birthday celebration he had often been asked the secret of his success.
“It’s hard to define,” Michel said. “Except I know going back to my infantry days that there’s a supreme being who we have to turn to every once in a while when we’re in deep trouble. And I was so well taken care of and cared for.”
Michel served in the Army with the 39th Infantry regiment during World War II in England, France, Belgium and Germany and participated in the Invasion of Normandy in 1944. Michel earned two Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart and four battle stars after being wounded by machine gun fire.
Michel’s wife of 55 years, Corrine, preceded him in death in 2003.
“She was so responsible during our 55 years of marriage to raising our four children and having them as successful as they are,” Michel said in 2013. “I was so busy campaigning and running around doing all of the things you’ve got to do in politics.”
President Ronald Reagan presented Michel with the Presidential Citizens Medal in 1989, the second highest civilian award given. Michel was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, by President Bill Clinton in 1994.
The Bradley University Student Center, the Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic in North Peoria and the Bob Michel Bridge are named after the former congressman. Additionally, the Creve Coeur Club annually presents its Robert H. Michel Lifetime Achievement Award.