Former US Congressman John Dingell flashes a grin while speaking at Student Government's Constitution Day on Sept. 22. (Ricky Lindsay/MJ)

Former Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history, who played key roles in shaping policy regarding the environment and health care over the course of his 59 year career, died Feb. 7 in his Dearborn home. He was 92.

Dingell had been diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, and chose not to treat it, according to a family member.  

“Congressman Dingell died peacefully today at his home in Dearborn, with his wife Deborah at his side,” said his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell’s office in a statement.

John Dingell’s congressional career of service started in 1955, when he took over the House seat of his father John Dingell Sr., who died earlier that year. Over the course of the next 59 years, his presence would be felt in legislation ranging from the Civil Rights Act of 1957, to the Endangered Species Act and eventually the controversial Affordable Care Act signed by former president Barack Obama in 2010.

In 2014, he announced that he would not seek another term in office. He was succeeded by his wife, Debbie Dingell.

John Dingell continued to build his legacy locally after his retirement. His presence was especially strong on the Dearborn campus. In 2015, he formed a partnership with the university to keep an office on campus, and discuss his experiences in conjunction with CASL courses, on a variety of subjects including “labor, environmental and health policies as well as topics related to civil rights and urban agendas.”

“I have always been impressed by the academic excellence and quality of students from the University of Michigan, both Dearborn and Ann Arbor,” said John Dingell in a university press release. “I look forward to sharing my experiences with UM-Dearborn students in hopes of providing a better understanding of the complexities of government and inspiring future leaders in politics.”

Political Science professor Sheryl Edwards had him speak to her class on the American presidency three times. “What better person to ask than someone who served with 11 presidents?,” she says.

“He had wonderful insights and observations, especially about why Congress is not able to function as well as it used to. He (also) had a wonderful sense of humor and treated every student like they were the most important person, she recalls. “Even though he was increasingly physically challenged, his mind was as sharp as anyone’s.”

John and Debbie Dingell also participated in student-led activities on campus. They were a consistent presence at the Student Government’s Constitution Day, where they spoke on numerous occasions. Thomas Wolsek, former Student Government president, remembers Dingell as a constant support to students.

“He always supported our students whenever he could, coming to campus to discuss the importance of our Constitution and to be civically engaged,” Wolsek says.

John Dingell also became infamous as a prolific user of Twitter, sharing his wit and insight with his 250,000 followers. A favorite target of his was President Donald Trump, who he antagonized relentlessly.  When President Trump tweeted that he was going to have “a big day in Washington D.C.,” Dingell quipped “pretending to work so hard must be truly exhausting.”

On the 43 year anniversary of former President Richard Nixon’s resignation following the Watergate scandal, Dingell tweeted out his letter of resignation, noting its conciseness, and telling President Trump “you could even fit it in a tweet.”

Even in his final moments he fought for access to his Twitter account.

“The Lovely Deborah is insisting I rest and stay off here, but after long negotiations we’ve worked out a deal where she’ll keep up with Twitter for me as I dictate the messages,” he said.

On his final day, he dictated an op-ed for the Washington Post, where he reflected on his experiences and gave advice to the next generation.

“As I prepare to leave this all behind, I now leave you in control of the greatest nation of mankind and pray God gives you the wisdom to understand the responsibility you hold in your hands. May God bless you all, and may God bless America.”