'He fought the good fight': Former Sen. Alan Dixon dies

News-DemocratJuly 6, 2014 

"The Gentleman from Illinois" has died.

Former U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon died Sunday morning at his Fairview Heights home after an illness.

Dixon, a Democrat, was a longtime resident of Belleville.

Former Gov. James Thompson, a Republican and 40-year friend of Dixon, said Sunday he last saw Dixon a year ago when he was signing copies of his book "The Gentleman from Illinois." Thompson wrote the book's forward.

"He was just a magnificent guy to know. He did the state of Illinois proud," Thompson said. "He used to say, 'Listen, pal, we can get these things done.'"

Dixon began his political career in 1949 at age 21 when he was elected Belleville police magistrate. He was then elected in 1951 to the Illinois House of Representatives, where he served until 1963 when he was elected to the Illinois State Senate. He served as a minority whip for part of his tenure in the State Senate. Dixon represented Illinois in the U.S. Senate from 1981 until 1993.

Dixon, 86, had been ill with a weak heart for the past two years, said Dixon's son, Jeff Dixon. He was released from Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis on Thursday.

"He came home on Thursday and he was in good spirits," Jeff Dixon said. "We had dinner with cold Budweiser followed by a glass of red wine."

Jeff Dixon said he returned home to Chicago on Friday at his father's urging. Dixon fully expected his father to celebrate his 87th birthday on Monday.

"He fought the good fight," Dixon said. "... He passed away in his sleep. I was in shock, but he went peacefully."

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., used to act as Dixon's opponent when Dixon prepared for debates during elections in the early 1980s, Jeff Dixon said.

Durbin released the following statement on Sunday.

"From his days as a Police Magistrate in Belleville to his leadership position in the United States Senate, Alan Dixon was known for his honesty, his hard work and his commitment to the state he loved. Alan was the first statewide Democrat to voluntarily make a full disclosure of his net worth. Alan started the first bipartisan Illinois Congressional lunches, a tradition which continues to this day. His friendships reached across the aisle and across our state. I lost a pal today and Illinois lost a man who brought honor to public service."

Dixon was married to Joan "Jody" and was the father of three children, Stephanie, Jeff and Elizabeth. He was a grandfather and great-grandfather.

Dixon received his bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois. He received his law degree from Washington University in St. Louis. Dixon was a World War II veteran, serving in the U.S. Navy.

In 2011, Lindenwood University-Belleville named its student center for Dixon. Dixon debated Republican Dave O'Neal at the Belleville campus during his first U.S. Senate campaign. Dixon's family pledged $250,000 for Lindenwood in exchange for the center being named after him. They raised more than $375,000. The extra funds were used to endow a scholarship at the university.

Last year, Dixon signed copies of his book "The Gentleman from Illinois" at Lindenwood University-Belleville. During an interview with the BND, Dixon attributed the loss of his senate seat to Carol Mosely-Braun in 1992 to his vote to confirm Clarence Thomas as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

Jeff Dixon said his father always stressed the importance of a good education. He encouraged all of his children to pursue education.

"I am so proud of him. He was a caring, generous man," Jeff Dixon said. "He always told us to tell the truth. Smile and be nice to people and they will be nice to you."

St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone, who confirmed Dixon's death, agreed.

"He was an excellent politician and an even nicer man," Stone said.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago said Dixon was a "great leader and representative who always put the public's interests first."

Former St. Clair County clerk and longtime Democrat Sam Flood, who said that a decade ago he owned a condo at Lake of the Ozarks with Dixon, commented, "I enjoyed him as a senator. I think he did the right things. He was a fine man and Jody is going to miss him."

Dixon was preceded in death by his parents, William and Elsa (nee Tebbenhof) Dixon of Belleville and brother Donald (Kitty) Dixon of Belleville and great-grandchild Hunter.

Dixon is survived by his wife Joan "Jody" Dixon, and three children, Stephanie (Doug) Yearian, of Waterloo; Jeffrey (Stacy) Dixon, of Chicago; Elizabeth (Stuart) Megaw, of Fairfax, Va. He is also survived by eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements for Dixon are pending at Renner Funeral Home.

Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 239-2570. Reporter George Pawlaczyk and The Associated contributed information for this story.

Alan Dixon recalls JFK's Oct. 3, 1960, visit to Belleville

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