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Government, Politics & Issues

Alan J. Dixon: Former U.S. Senator From Illinois Spent A Lifetime In Public Service

Alan J. Dixon

Updated with tentative funeral arrangements.

Alan J. Dixon, a two-term Democratic senator from Illinois and long-time figure in Illinois politics, died today. According to a report in the Belleville News-Democrat, Mr. Dixon had had heart problems for the past two years and had recently been in Barnes-Jewish hospital. "He came home on Thursday and he was in good spirits," Jeff Dixon, the senator’s son, told the News-Democrat. "We had dinner with cold Budweiser followed by a glass of red wine."

Mr. Dixon was 86. He would have turned 87 on Monday.

“I lost a pal today and Illinois lost a man who brought honor to public service,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a statement. The use of the word pal was no accident; Mr. Dixon used the rhyme with Al in many campaigns.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said that Dixon's legacy included concrete achievements.  "But for his leadership, Illinois would have lost Scott Air Force Base - the largest employer south of I-80," Kirk said. "We owe Alan a debt of gratitude for all he did for our state."

His exuberance and joy in politics was remembered by Mike Lawrence who covered the politician as a journalist. Mr. Lawrence also say him from inside politics, when Lawrence was the press spokesman for Gov. Jim Edgar.

In an email, Lawrence said,

Senator Dixon was one of the last of the gifted orators in our state's history. While in the General Assembly, he could display his unusual skill in sometimes fierce verbal combat with a member holding an opposite view, then share a laugh with him shortly after the vote and a few rounds of beer later in a popular Springfield watering hole. He was serious about prevailing on issues and winning campaigns, but he was gracious in both victory and defeat. His intelligence and contributions to his state were underestimated by many because of his happy-warrior countenance, his trademark grin and his back-slapping style. In the mid-70s he showed determination and guts to force a reluctant and fearsome Mayor Richard J. Daley to slate him for secretary of state instead of Neil Hartigan, a Daley protege. While in the Senate, he was a highly effective go-to guy for Governors Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar when they needed help from Washington. To Senator Dixon, politics was far more joy than jugular. He was fun to cover and good for Illinois.

Mr. Dixon, began his political career as a police magistrate in Belleville. He was one of the youngest individuals ever elected to the Illinois House of Representatives at age 23. He served as a representative from 1952 to 1963, and then in the state Senate from 1963 to 1971. He won his first statewide election in 1970, and served as state treasurer from 1971 to 1977.

He moved up the ladder of statewide offices winning election for secretary of state in November 1976. Mr. Dixon, used the high-profile secretary of state’s office to position himself for election to the U.S. Senate in 1980. Mr. Dixon, a moderate, won his seat in the Senate in the same election that sent Ronald Reagan to the White House. He served in the U.S. Senate from 1981 to 1993.

Dixon’s vote to confirm Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court played a part in his primary election loss to Carol Moseley Braun in 1992. That three-way contest saw Moseley Braun winning significant support from black voters and millionaire Al Hoefeld pull moderates and conservatives away from Dixon.

After leaving the U.S. Senate, Dixon chaired the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) from 1994 to 1995. After his departure from the U.S. Senate, Dixon joined the St. Louis law firm of Bryan Cave.

Dixon’s autobiography was released last year, "The Gentleman from Illinois: Stories from Forty Years of Elective Public Service."

Public service

"My father cared deeply about people and was committed to public service for more than four decades," said Dixon's son, Jeff in a statement released by the family. "He was known and respected for his ability to work together with people of varied ideologies and political affiliations. He believed in the spirit of cooperation and compromise."

Mr. Dixon was born in Belleville on July 7, 1927. to William and Elsa Dixon. He served in the U.S. Navy Air Corps in World War II before earning a bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His law degree is from Washington University in St. Louis in 1949.

Mr. Dixon is survived by his wife Jody and their three children -- Stephanie, Jeffrey and Elizabeth. He also had eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. The funeral has tentatively been set for 11 a.m. Monday at Lindenwood University-Belleville, with visitation at the college from 3-8 p.m. July 13 and 10-11 a.m. July 14.

Read more here: http://www.bnd.com/2014/07/07/3291242/funeral-services-for-alan-dixon.html?sp=/99/166/#storylink=cpy
Jim Howard will start as the St. Louis Public Radio Washington correspondent next week.

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