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Biden: Longtime Rep. John Dingell Treated All With 'Dignity'

John Dingell

Longtime Rep. John Dingell knew that jobs were about more than collecting a paycheck, and that health care meant more than just good health. Both were about dignity, former Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday while eulogizing the longest serving member of Congress in U.S. history.

Biden told hundreds of people gathered for Dingell's funeral in a suburban Detroit church that the longtime Michigan congressman treated everyone with respect, including during his record 59 years in Congress. Biden said Dingell, who died last week at age 92, "knew public service wasn't a title you wear, but a shift you work."

"He believed without exception that everybody was entitled to be treated with dignity," Biden said. "Dignity was how John walked. Dignity was how John talked. Dignity was how John carried himself. More than that, it was how he treated everybody. And I mean everybody."

About 800 people attended the service at Church of the Divine Child in Dearborn, the city where Dingell served and lived, though bad weather prevented some from attending: A military plane carrying members of Congress was turned back — leading to an impromptu service at 30,000 feet.

Missouri Rep. Billy Long tweeted that the service aboard the plane was led by Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, who both had been scheduled to speak during the service, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

On the ground, the Rev. Terrence Kerner said Dingell instructed his staff to be responsive to the needs of his constituents. He said Dingell wanted to keep helping people no longer in his district after his district's lines had been redrawn.

Kerner said Dingell told his staff: "Even though they are not in my district any more, take care of them. ... They need me. They need you."

Biden spoke later during the service, noting that Dingell was among the few congressional leaders he "looked up to." He said Dingell was indefatigable , fighting for landmark legislation over the decades that included civil rights, Medicare, health care and, before he retired in 2014, saw the health care overhaul signed into federal law in 2010.

Dingell succeeded his father in Congress in 1955, carried on John Dingell Sr.'s wishes by introducing a universal health care coverage bill in each of his terms.

Biden also noted that Dingell loved the University of Michigan and repeatedly sang the school's fight song, whose refrain begins with "Hail to the Victors." Yet he noted the victory gloats were for the school, not Dingell's constituents.

"His life wasn't about hailing the victors," Biden said. "It was about focusing on those who suffered, and offering them a hand."

The mood of the Mass was at times festive, lighthearted and humorous, which Kerner and Biden noted was at Dingell's request. Biden, known for a loose tongue when he didn't know microphones were on, began his remarks with, "Bless me, Father, for I'm about to sin."

Biden concluded by comparing Dingell's life to a line from "Hamlet," saying: "He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again."

And to Dingell, Biden said: "God bless you, old buddy."

Kerner noted that Dingell would have celebrated his 38th wedding anniversary on Wednesday with his wife, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, who was elected to replace her husband when he retired from the House. In honor of the anniversary, a soloist sang "Ave Maria," also heard at the couple's wedding.

The service ended with a rousing, brass-blasting version of "God Bless America."

On Monday, hundreds of people hundreds of people lined up to pay their respects as they passed Dingell's coffin. Each was personally greeted by members of his family. Debbie Dingell stayed to greet everyone throughout the day, after some private moments near the casket.

The visitation was the first of many public events this week. There will be a second funeral Mass on Thursday in Washington. A motorcade with Dingell's casket will pass the U.S. Capitol, where he held power for years as a House committee chairman. He will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

Former President Bill Clinton and former House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio are scheduled to speak at the Washington service.

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