BELLEVILLE — Pat Coleman may be one of the last people won over by Alan Dixon's charm.
Coleman, a professional caregiver who did not previously know the former U.S. senator, said she got to know him in the weeks before he died while attending him during his illness. She joined hundreds of relatives, friends and admirers at a visitation for Dixon from 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the Lindenwood University-Belleville auditorium.
"He just had that wonderful grin. And those eyes. They just smiled at you." said Coleman. "He still had that spark in him the day he died."
Funeral services for Dixon will be at 11 a.m. Monday in the auditorium, followed by a private burial at Lakeview Memorial Gardens in Fairview Heights. Dixon died July 6 at age 86, a day before his birthday.
The visitation was controlled by a contigent of Belleville police who, at first, kept reporters outside. However, family members eventually allowed a reporter inside.
U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, and U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, were among the first dignitaries to arrive. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and former Republican governor Jim Thompson are expected to attend the funeral Monday.
While talk about whether the White House would send a representative circulated among the crowd, Beth Featherstone, a publicist who help coordinate the event, said she had no knowledge of whether President Obama or a representative would attend the visitation or the funeral.
"He was always a gentleman," said fellow Democrat and former East St. Louis Mayor, Gordon Bush who attended with his wife, Brenda. He said Dixon called on him in 1992 to go to Chicago to help in a Democratic primary battle against Carol Moseley Braun, who handed Dixon his only defeat and became the only African-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
Bush said Dixon called him and asked him to come to Chicago to campaign against Moseley Braun.
Bush, who is African-American, said he planned to go to Chicago to help his friend Dixon but then received a call from the senator waving him off and telling him he didn't want to put a friend through a losing effort.
" 'These people are wild about her. There is nothing you can do or anyone can do to turn it around. I don't want to put you in the lion's cage,' " Bush said he was told by Dixon.
"Like I said, he was always a gentleman," Bush said.
A steady stream of people parked in the VIP parking area and walked the short distance to the auditorium.
Retired Belleville lawyer Maury Bone said he played golf with Dixon for 45 years at the St. Clair County Country Club.
"He loved golf. I can tell you he would have played it every day if he could. That's why he knew a lot of people. He was always gregarious. Always outgoing," Bone said."
Jack Viner remembers that newly-elected state Rep. Dixon was a speaker at an assembly in the mid-1950s at Belleville Township High School, where Lindenwood University is located today.
"He was very impressive. I don't remember what he said, but I'll never forget how he said it," Viner said. His wife, Mary Viner, added, "I would call him a true statesman."
But it was Dixon's son, Jeff, a registered lobbyist, who remembered the personal lessons a politician/father emphasized.
"He taught me so many things over the years; to be honest, to tell the truth, to smile and people will treat you in the same way," Jeff Dixon said.
"And to always return your phone calls." he added.
"When I would hear him speak I would get chills up my spine, and goose-bumps all over my body. He had a gift from God. I don't think anyone could give a speech like him. The crowd would roar."
Nephew Scott Dixon, a Belleville attorney, said even as a child he admired his famous uncle's style.
"He was the reason I became a lawyer," he said.
Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk@email@example.com and 239-2625