Ed Derwinski, American politician, U.S. Representative from Illinois (1959–1983); United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs (1989–1992), died from merkel cell carcinoma he was 85
Edward Joseph “Ed” Derwinski was an American politician who served as the first Cabinet-level United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs, serving under President George H. W. Bush from March 15, 1989 to September 26, 1992 died from merkel cell carcinoma he was 85.. He previously served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1959 to 1983, representing south and southwest suburbs of Chicago.
(September 15, 1926 – January 15, 2012)
Member of the House of Representatives
Derwinski served in the United States Army in the Pacific Theater during World War II and in the postwar U.S. occupation of Japan. He graduated from Loyola University Chicago in 1951. He was a celebrated member of Alpha Delta Gamma National Fraternity. In 1957 he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, where he served one term before winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1958. He served 12 terms as a Republican representative from the 4th District of Illinois, a suburban region south and west of Chicago, eventually becoming ranking member of the House Foreign Relations Committee. He also served as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly 1971-1972 and as chairman of the U.S. delegation to the Interparliamentary Union from 1970–1972 and 1978-1980.
First Cabinet-level Secretary of Veterans Affairs
A Democratic redistricting plan after the 1980 Census
carved up the 4th District, with only about 15% of its territory being
retained and added to various territory from other districts; Derwinski
and fellow Republican congressman George M. O’Brien were placed in the same district, and O’Brien won the 1982
primary on the strength of having more of his previous district
included in the new configuration. After Derwinski’s loss, President Ronald Reagan appointed him Counselor to the State Department. In 1987, Reagan appointed him Under Secretary of State
for Security Assistance, Science and Technology, where he served until
the end of Reagan’s term, shortly after which he was selected to head
the V.A.
A Polish American, Derwinski was noted for his efforts on behalf of Eastern Europe throughout his career. Notably, he aided in the rehabilitation of the Serbian Royalist general Draža Mihailović. Mihailović had received the Legion of Merit for his resistance efforts against the Axis—but this information was marked “secret” at the behest of the State Department so as not to harm relations with Marshal Tito, the current ruler of Yugoslavia
in 1967. Tito was Mihailović’s rival in World War II, and after Tito’s
forces emerged triumphant, Mihailović was accused of collaboration with
the Nazis and executed. At the urging of airmen involved in Operation Halyard
who had been saved by Mihailović’s forces and had heard rumors of the
award to him, Derwinski insisted that the State Department make the text
of President Truman’s citation public, confirming that Mihailović had
not collaborated. Derwinski served as head of “Ethnic Americans for Dole/Kemp” during the 1996 presidential election.
Derwinski resided in Glen Ellyn, Illinois
with his wife, the former Bonita Hickey. He had two adult children,
Maureen and Michael, from his first marriage to Patricia Derwinski.
On January 15, 2012, Derwinski died at a nursing home from Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare form of skin cancer. He was 85 years old.
On learning of his death, former United States Senator Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL) described Derwinski as “a
giant in Illinois politics … [H]e had incredible connections in all
the different ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago, he was really loved by
everybody on both sides”.
“Mr. Derwinski’s outgoing personality and experience in Chicago
politics and business served him well during his decades in Washington”,
said Senator Mark Kirk,
who first met Derwinski in the 1980s. “He was utterly personable, made
you feel like part of the team … He was somebody that was
well-grounded in his principles and his patriotism but brought a gritty
Chicagoland get-it-done feel to his work”, Kirk said.
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