By Emanuel Cleaver
5th District Congressman
How do you say goodbye to someone you love like a big brother? I know we have all lost loved ones. We have all suffered pain. And now, our state, and indeed, our entire country, join together to say goodbye to our dear friend – Congressman Ike Skelton. Ike’s ‘resume’ is well-known. But what we, here in Missouri, know about our friend goes far beyond that.
He was born in Lexington and attended Wentworth Military Academy. He was a lawyer, prosecuting attorney, and a state attorney general. He was a member of the Missouri state senate and served 16 terms in Congress as a United States Representative. He was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and as so, was one of the most influential human beings, in this country and in the world. He was the most revered member of Congress by the military of the United States of America. Yet, any member of Congress, from either side of the aisle, could stop him and hold a conversation. He never lost the common touch. But that doesn’t capture who Ike Skelton was.
Ike was a man of humility. He was kind, loving, and strong. His strength came in the form of great gentleness. He was approachable to everyone and remained a dignified public servant throughout his life. Last year I participated in the unveiling ceremony of his portrait, which is now hanging in the House Armed Services Committee. Hundreds came to recognize this fine man and to honor him. Portrait unveilings don’t happen very often on Capitol Hill, and this was one to remember.
How could Missouri ever forget? He brought us military bases, jobs, and worldwide respect. He fought for what he believed in but he did so without attacking. He knew the difference between people and peoples’ ideas. He knew disagreeing with a person’s idea or belief, did not mean disliking the person who held it. He always looked for ways to make life a little better for others. On more than one occasion he gave up time with his own family, to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with troops overseas. He was a man among men.
It will be difficult to roam the halls of Congress and not see Ike Skelton. Or to come into the House Chamber and not look at the seat where he usually sat and where the Missouri delegation would, from time to time, gather around him. I have said to him and to others in his presence, that this man had the ability to walk with kings and Presidents, yet not lose the common touch.
Whether it was his service to others, his personal friendship, or a combination of both, Ike Skelton will not be forgotten. He was special. He was rare. And people like Ike don’t come around that often. I was on the floor of the House when I found out he had passed away. I knew he had been sick, but his death was certainly unexpected.
I will always remember – and miss – my mentor and my friend, Ike Skelton. I led a moment of silence on the House floor in memory of Ike. There were tears around the room. A room that sometimes feels so cold. For indeed, the world is a bit colder now that Ike has passed away. I have performed weddings and funerals for Ike Skelton and his family. And I knew last week, that I’d be searching for words as I spoke at his.
He traveled the world and knew the powerful on a first name basis. But what Ike loved most – was coming home to Missouri.
The man from Lexington had a long life and an even longer list of accomplishments. Good works that will be recorded by historians for many years to come. And now we’ve said goodbye to our friend, Ike Skelton, who has gone home for good.