The Capitol ceremony honoring Rep. John Dingell’s record-breaking tenure in Congress — 57 years, five months, and 26 days as of last Friday, when he became the longest-serving member in U.S. history — was pretty much what you’d expect. John Boehner made some gentle jokes. Joe Biden held forth at length about the Michigan Democrat’s “dignity” and “respect for the people.” “So, John, I just came to say thanks,” the veep told the audience.
And then a high-powered girl group got up to serenade him, Motown-style.
Yeah, that part was actually a surprise. Detroit native Mary Wilson, one of the original powerhouse voices of the Supremes, stood in the grand Statuary Hall and began singing “Stop! In the Name of Love,” enlisting Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Dingell, the lawmaker’s high-profile wife, to do the “stop!” hand gestures. They were quickly joined by Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Rep. Donna Edwards, and TV star-turned-Washington socialite Lynda Carter.
Yeah, it was kind of random and loopy — something that might happen at a bachelorette party after a couple margaritas — but the crowd (House members, senators, friends, family) ate it up. So did the guest of honor when asked about his reaction to the chorus line later. “It was doggone good,” he told Hill reporters. “I’d never seen that done around here before. I had four gorgeous…five…six gorgeous women doing it.”
The ad hoc performance capped a heartfelt ceremony for the 86-year-old lawmaker, who began his congressional career in 1955 after he replaced his late father in a special election. The speeches were warm: Boehner ticked off Dingell’s career stats, then added, “You really can’t put a number on what it means to enjoy the respect and admiration of your peers — which, more than anything, is why we’re here today for John.” Biden cited Dingell’s lifelong fight for the dignity of his constituents. Dingell responded with thanks for his wife, friends and the privilege of serving his country.
“Like all of you, I’m troubled about the times in which we find ourselves in,” he said in his brief remarks. “Congress means ‘coming together,’ where people come together to work for great causes in which they all have an important interest to share. We have unfortunately, because of the pressures of the times, forgotten this. I’m hopeful that as we move forward… we pull together to work for common good.”
And there were gifts — good ones, too: A replica of his portrait that currently hangs in the Energy and Commerce Committee Hearing Room in the Rayburn Building and — even better — the announcement that the room will be now be officially named the John. D. Dingell room.
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