Charles H. Percy

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Charles H. Percy
Charles Percy.jpg
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
In office
January 3, 1981 – January 3, 1985
Preceded by Frank Church
Succeeded by Richard Lugar
United States Senator
from Illinois
In office
January 3, 1967 – January 3, 1985
Preceded by Paul Douglas
Succeeded by Paul M. Simon
Personal details
Born Charles Harting Percy
(1919-09-27)September 27, 1919
Pensacola, Escambia County
Florida, USA
Died September 17, 2011(2011-09-17) (aged 91)
Washington, D.C.
Resting place Oak Hill Cemetery

Washington, D.C.

Nationality American
Spouse(s) Jeanne Valerie Dickerson, June 12, 1943-1947 her death
Loraine Diane Guyer, Aug. 27, 1950-Sep. 17, 2011 his death
Children Sharon Lee (b. 1944)
Valerie Jeanne (1944-1966)
Roger (b. 1947)
Gail (b. 1953)
Mark (b. 1955)
Parents Edward H. and Elizabeth Harting Percy
Alma mater University of Chicago A.B. 1941
Religion Christian Science
Military service
Service/branch United States Navy
Rank Lieutenant
Battles/wars World War II
Awards 1949 one of 10 outstanding young men of U.S. Jr. C. of C.
1955 World Trade award World Trade Award Com.
1956 Nat. Sales Execs. Mgmt. award
1962 Bus. Man of Year award Sat. Rev.
1962 Statesmanship award Harvard Bus. Sch. Assn., Chgo.
1962 Humanitarian Service award Abraham Lincoln Ctr.
1986 Humanitarian of the Yr. award Save the Children Found.
1965 Top-Hat award Nat. Fedn. Bus. and Profl. Women's Clubs
1965 Bus. Adminstrn. award Drexel Inst. Tech.
1982 UNICEF World of Children award
Lifetime Achievement Award Alliance to Save Energy
others
comdr. French Legion of Honor
[1][2][3]

Charles Harting Percy (September 27, 1919 – September 17, 2011) was an American businessman and politician. He was president of the Bell & Howell Corporation from 1949 to 1964. In 1966, he was elected to the United States Senate from Illinois as a Republican; he served for three terms (18 years) until 1985, when he was defeated by Paul Simon, and was mentioned as a GOP presidential hopeful from 1968 through 1988. During his Senate career, he concentrated on business and foreign relations.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Charles Harting Percy was born in Pensacola, the seat of Escambia County in far northwestern Florida, to Edward H. Percy and the former Elizabeth Harting.[5] His father, an Alabama native descended from illustrious colonial-era Mississippians and Virginians, was at various times an automobile salesman and bank cashier. His Illinois-born mother was a concert violinist. Edward was a son of Charles Brown Percy and Helen Leila Herndon of the powerful Herndon family of Virginia.[6][7] Elizabeth Harting was a daughter of Phineas Fredrick Harting and Belle Aschenbach.[8]

The family moved to Chicago when Percy was an infant. As a child, he was notable for his entrepreneurial energy and held jobs while attending school. In the mid-1930s, his pluck brought him to the attention of his Sunday school teacher, Joseph McNabb, the president of Bell & Howell, then a small camera company.

Percy completed high school at New Trier High School. He entered the University of Chicago on a half tuition scholarship. He completed his degree in economics in 1941.[1][5]

Career[edit]

Percy started at Bell & Howell in 1938 as an apprentice and sales trainee. In 1939 he worked at Crowell Collier. He went to work full-time for Bell & Howell in 1941, after college. Within a year he was appointed a director of the company. Percy served three years in the United States Navy during World War II and returned to the company in 1945.[3]

After Joseph McNabb died in 1949, Percy was made the president of Bell & Howell. In 1949, the Jaycees named Percy one of the "Outstanding Young Men in America", along with Gerald R. Ford, Jr., of Michigan, future U.S. President, and John Ben Shepperd, future Texas Attorney General.

During his leadership, Percy expanded Bell & Howell, raising revenues 32-fold and employees 12-fold and listing the company on the New York Stock Exchange. While continuing to manufacture movie cameras and movie and sound projectors for military, commercial, and home use, in the late 1940s the company diversified into the production of microfilm. Later it entered the information services markets as well.

Political career[edit]

In the late 1950s, Percy decided to enter politics. With the encouragement of then U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Percy helped to write Decisions for a Better America, which proposed a set of long-range goals for the Republican Party. He belonged to the liberal wing of the Republican party led during his presidency by Eisenhower and later closely identified with New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller.

Percy first entered electoral politics with a run for governor of Illinois in 1964, which he narrowly lost to Democratic incumbent Otto Kerner. During his gubernatorial campaign, Percy reluctantly endorsed conservative Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, his future Senate colleague, who fared poorly in Illinois and throughout the country.

U.S. Senate[edit]

In 1966, Percy ran for senator from Illinois; he upset the Democratic senator Paul Douglas (a former professor of Percy's at the University of Chicago) with 56 percent of the vote. During that campaign, Percy's 21-year-old daughter Valerie was murdered at the family home under mysterious circumstances, apparently by an intruder. Percy suspended the campaign for two weeks. Valerie Percy's murder has never been solved, despite a long investigation.[2] (Following the murder, CBS postponed, and eventually canceled the planned network premiere of the Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho.

In 1967, Senator Percy introduced a bill to establish a program to stimulate production of low-cost housing. Percy's proposal was the first of its kind to provide home ownership to low-income families, and it received strong support from Republicans in both the House and the Senate. When asked why he selected housing for his first major legislative proposal, Percy said: "Of all the problems I ran across during three years of campaigning, first for the governorship and then for the Senate, the most appalling in their consequences for the future seemed to be the problems of the declining areas of the city and countryside, the inadequacy of housing."

Although he had been in the Senate less than two years, Percy was mentioned as a Republican hopeful for the 1968 Presidential nomination. The New York Times columnist James B. Reston referred to him as "the hottest political article in the Republican Party.”[9]

In 1978, as Percy was completing his second term, he appeared invincible.[10] Percy was considered so strong that the Democratic party was unable to persuade any serious candidates to challenge him.[11] Emerging from the Democratic primary was the dark horse candidate, Alex Seith, who had never before sought elected office but had served as an appointee on the Cook County Zoning Board of Appeals for twelve years, nine as chairman.

But at that time, Percy's reputation as a Rockefeller Republican, contrasted with Seith's ostensible hard-line foreign policy positions, combined to make Percy suddenly vulnerable in the weeks before the election. Sensing his improbable loss, Percy went on television days before the polling and, with tear-filled eyes, pleaded with Illinois voters to give him another chance. He said, "I got your message and you're right... I'm sure that I've made my share of mistakes, but your priorities are mine."[12] He won re-election 54% to Seith's 46%.

Percy served in the Senate until the end of his third term in January 1985. He had been narrowly defeated for re-election in November 1984 by the liberal Congressman Paul Simon. After Percy's defeat, no Republican would win a senatorial race in Illinois until Peter Fitzgerald in 1998.

In 2006, writing about the influence of political lobbies on the U.S. relationship with Israel, political theorists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote that they believed Percy's loss resulted from the campaign waged against him by the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).[13] The lobbying group controlled substantial monies and helped lawmakers who they believed supported the security of Israel. Earlier that year, Percy and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dante Fascell, expressed sympathy for the cause of Karl Linnas, a concentration camp commander who was to be deported back to Estonia, having lied in the papers he used to enter the United States. Linnas had ordered, and participated in, the murders of Jews and other prisoners.[14] Percy's view, shared by Fascell and by Representative Donald L. Ritter of Pennsylvania and of the Helsinki Commission was that Linnas should be deported, but not to the Soviet Union.

While in the Senate, Percy was active in business and international affairs. Although he explored the possibility of running for President in both 1968 and 1976, he did not run either time. During the early 1970s, he clashed with President Nixon and criticized the U.S. conduct of the Vietnam War.

In 1977, Percy and Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey - responding to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and high energy prices in general - created the Alliance to Save Energy[15] to encourage a national commitment to energy efficiency. Sen. Percy was the founding chairman of the organization.[16]

Percy was again mentioned for the presidency in 1980 and 1988, but his candidacies did not progress beyond their explorative stages.

Perhaps Percy's most important act, and his longest-lasting legacy, was ending the practice of nominating federal judges from a pool of candidates generated by the Chicago political machine. He implemented a system of consultation with, and advice from, groups of legal experts, including the professional bar association, a practice considered novel at the time.[17] One of his nominees, John Paul Stevens, was selected by Gerald Ford as a justice of the United States Supreme Court.[17]

Literary opinions[edit]

Percy said of the Autobiography of Malcolm X, "Every white person should read it."[18]

Marriage and family[edit]

Percy was a Christian Scientist.[5] During World War II, he married Jeanne Dickerson. They had twin daughters, Valerie and Sharon (born 1944) and a son Roger (born 1946). After Jeanne Percy's death in 1947, Percy married Loraine Guyer in 1950. Their children are Gail (born 1953) and Mark (born 1955).

Percy's daughter Valerie was murdered in her bed on September 18, 1966, in the family's home on Lake Michigan in Kenilworth. Although her stepmother had a brief glimpse of the killer and considerable resources were devoted to solving the crime, the identity of the murderer remains unknown. A year later, her twin sister Sharon Percy married John D. Rockefeller IV,[5] who was later elected Democratic Governor of West Virginia (1977-1985) and has been United States Senator from that state since 1985.

Percy remained active after leaving political office but suffered from Alzheimer's disease in later years.[19] He died on September 17, 2011, at the Washington Home and Community Hospice in Washington, D.C..[5][20]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Langer, Emily (September 18, 2011). "Charles H. Percy, 91 - GOP senator's star rose quickly". Washington Post. 
  2. ^ a b Goudie, Chuck (September 14, 2006). "Percy Killing: The Forty Year File 9/15/06". abc7chicago. Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  3. ^ a b "Charles Harting Percy" (fee, via Fairfax County Public Library). The Complete Marquis Who's Who. Marquis Who's Who. 2010. Gale Document Number: GALE|K2013030218. Retrieved 2011-09-18.  Gale Biography In Context.
  4. ^ Stephen Hess and David S. Broder. The Republican Establishment: The Present and Future of the G.O.P. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.
  5. ^ a b c d e Clymer, Adam (2011-09-17). "Charles Percy, Former Ill. Senator, Is Dead at 91". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-09-17. 
  6. ^ "Edward H. Percy", Rootsweb
  7. ^ Herndon, John W. (April 1902). "A Genealogy of the Herndon Family". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (fee) (Virginia Historical Society) 9 (4): 439–441. JSTOR 4242470. 
  8. ^ "Elizabeth Harting", Rootsweb
  9. ^ Clymer, Adam (17 September 2011). "Charles Percy, Former Ill. Senator, Is Dead at 91". New York Times. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  10. ^ "Percy's Problem". TIME. 1978-11-06. Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  11. ^ Manning, Al. "The slatemaking saga of Democrats — without Daley – Was anybody happy?". Northern Illinois University. 
  12. ^ "Got Your Message". TIME. 1978-11-20. Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  13. ^ Mearsheimer, John; Walt, Stephen (23 March 2006). "The Israel Lobby". London Review of Books 28 (6). Retrieved 2011-09-06. "Thomas A. Dine, the president of AIPAC, said, "All Jews from coast to coast gathered to oust Percy. And the American politicians – those who hold public positions now, and those who aspire – got the message."" 
  14. ^ Jack Anderson (14 January 1985). "D'Amato disowns letter". The Evening News (Newburgh, NY). p. 4. 
  15. ^ "Our History". Alliance To Save Energy. Retrieved 2011-09-20. 
  16. ^ "Board of Directors". Alliance To Save Energy. Retrieved 2011-09-20. 
  17. ^ a b Littlewood, Tom (April 1976). "How Sen. Percy exercises prerogative in nominating judgeship candidates". Illinois Issues II (4). Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  18. ^ "I can Hear it Now": The 1960s", an audio recording with Walter Cronkite
  19. ^ "SENATOR AND MRS. ROCKEFELLER HONORED AT NATIONAL ALZHEIMER'S GALA". Senator Rockefeller. March 26, 2009. Retrieved 2011-09-18. 
  20. ^ Pearson, Rick (September 17, 2011). "Former U.S. Sen. Charles Percy dies". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2011-09-18. 

External links[edit]

United States Senate
Preceded by
Paul Douglas
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Illinois
1967–1985
Served alongside: Everett Dirksen, Ralph Tyler Smith,
Adlai Stevenson III, Alan J. Dixon
Succeeded by
Paul Simon
Political offices
Preceded by
Frank Church
Idaho
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
1981–1985
Succeeded by
Richard Lugar
Indiana