Edward Derwinski dies at 85 – First Secretary of Veterans Affairs / September 15, 1926 – January 15, 2012
Aleksandra’s Note: Another good guy gone…The Mihailovich Serbs have lost a dear friend. Though the articles below from the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times do not mention it, Edward Derwinski was responsible for getting the Legion of Merit Medal that was posthumously awarded to General Draza Mihailovich in 1948, declassified 20 years later in 1968. Mr. Derwinski died on Sunday, January 15, 2012. He will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. In the week to come, I will be posting more about Edward Derwinski and his role in bringing the Halyard Mission Rescue Operation to light.
January 17, 2012
By Ryan Haggerty,
Chicago Tribune reporter
Edward Derwinski, a South Side Republican who spent 24 years in Congress and was the nation’s first secretary of veterans affairs, couldn’t resist the lure of politics even after his career ended.
Mr. Derwinski continued to stay active as a mentor to several Republican lawmakers well into retirement. State Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said Mr. Derwinski called often to discuss the latest political gossip or to offer advice on the issue of the day.
He taught her to “always keep perspective,” she said.
“Every issue is not the end of the world,” she said, recalling the lessons he taught her. “Think things through and take one day at a time. In this business, you have ups, and you have downs.”
Mr. Derwinski, 85, died of cancer Sunday, Jan. 15, at Oak Brook HealthCare and Rehabilitation Centre, his family said. He was a resident of the South Loop.
Former U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald said Derwinski was “a giant in Illinois politics.”
“He had incredible connections in all the different ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago,” Fitzgerald said. “He was really loved by everybody on both sides.”
The descendant of Polish immigrants, Mr. Derwinski grew up in the South Side Roseland neighborhood and graduated from Mount Carmel High School. At the end of World War II, he was among the first U.S. troops to occupy Japan.
When his father died in 1947, Mr. Derwinski took over the family business, a savings and loan association in Roseland. Under his control, the business’s assets grew from $1 million to $13 million.
A 1951 graduate of Loyola University Chicago, Mr. Derwinski’s political career began in the late 1950s, when a legislative redistricting resulted in the state lawmakers who represented Roseland being from the other side of Lake Calumet.
According to a Tribune profile of Mr. Derwinski, he spoke out against the remap at a neighborhood protest and another attendee told him, “If you’re so damn smart, why don’t you run?”
Mr. Derwinski accepted the challenge and was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, where he served a two-year term. In 1959, he began his first term in the U.S. House, remaining until after he lost his remapped seat in a 1982 primary election.
Mr. Derwinski then spent six years in the State Department, rising to the rank of undersecretary of state for national security affairs. UnderPresident George H.W. Bush he served as the country’s first secretary of veterans affairs. Mr. Derwinski held that post until September 1992, when he resigned and joined Bush’s re-election campaign.Mr. Derwinski’s outgoing personality and experience in Chicago politics and business served him well during his decades in Washington, said Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who first met Mr. Derwinski in the 1980s.
“He was utterly personable, made you feel like part of the team,” Kirk said. “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.”
Mr. Derwinski also was regarded as a key political force in the effort to improve relations between the United States and Poland, Kirk said.
“He lived long enough to see Poland go from enemy to ally and also to see its economy go from gray, dull communism to one of the most exciting markets in Europe,” Kirk said. “He was the right friend to Poland just when relations turned from bad to outstanding.”
Mr. Derwinski showed that being personable and kind can go a long way in politics, said Radogno, of Lemont, who first got to know him about 12 years ago.
“He was very warm, very genuine, very down to earth,” Radogno said. “I think he probably was pretty successful in his political career because he had those attributes, (and because) he was very practical. He represented people during changing times. When the politics of his district changed, he had to change with them.”
Mr. Derwinski’s daughter, Maureen Quattrocki, said her father was made for politics.
“He really was devoted to his constituents all those years in Congress,” she said. “He loved being a congressman. The whole thing energized him.”
He especially enjoyed returning to Chicago to speak at schools or attend public ceremonies that allowed him to mingle with members of his district, his daughter said.
“I really believe he was happiest talking to people and making speeches,” she said. “He had the right joke for the right event. Everyone was laughing. He loved that.”
Mr. Derwinski was divorced from his first wife, Patricia Derwinski, who survives him.
He is also survived by his wife, Bonnie; a son, Michael ; a stepdaughter, Maggie Hickey; a stepson, Kevin Hickey; a sister, Bernadette Ferrara; and seven grandchildren.
Visitation will be 3-9 p.m. Friday at Michael Coletta Sons Funeral Home, 544 W. 31st St., Chicago. Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday at Holy Family Church, 1080 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago.
Los Angeles Times
January 21, 2012
Edward Derwinski, who represented Chicago’s south side and adjoining suburbs in Congress for nearly a quarter-century before becoming the nation’s first secretary of Veterans Affairs, died Sunday of cancer at a nursing home in Oak Brook, Ill., his family said. He was 85.
After serving one term in the Illinois Legislature, he ran successfully for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1958 and held the seat until losing a primary race in 1982 after the boundaries of his district were redrawn.
President Reagan kept Derwinski in Washington by appointing him to the State Department as a top counselor and trouble-shooter. He rose to undersecretary for national security affairs during his six years there.
One of his first major assignments was coordinating the work of federal and state law enforcement agencies in connection with the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Derwinski’s outgoing personality served him well in Washington, according to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)
“He was utterly personable and made you feel like part of the team,” Kirk said. He “was well-grounded in his principles and his patriotism but brought a gritty, Chicagoland get-it-done feel to his work.”
In 1989, Derwinski became the first person to head the Department of Veterans Affairs after the former Veterans Administration was renamed and given Cabinet-level status.
The relationship between Derwinski, who served in the Army during World War II, and veterans organizations proved to be stormy.
Although he substantially increased the Veterans Affairs budget, Derwinski infuriated veterans already upset over declining healthcare benefits when he proposed opening up two underused veterans hospitals to non-veterans. A proposal to eliminate smoking at the hospitals also proved unpopular.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars called for his resignation, and he was booed at an American Legion convention in 1992. He soon resigned and joined President George H.W. Bush’s reelection campaign.
A descendant of Polish immigrants, Edward Joseph Derwinski was born Sept. 15, 1926, in Chicago.
After his father died in 1947, he took over the family’s savings and loan, helping it grow dramatically. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1951 from Loyola University Chicago.
When he was named to the Veterans Administration post, there was controversy during his Senate confirmation hearing over what he admitted was a “rather stupid” mistake he’d made in 1977. He had tipped off a South Korean diplomat to the impending defection to the U.S. of one of its intelligence agents.
At the time, Derwinski was the ranking Republican on a House subcommittee investigating influence-peddling known as “Koreagate.” Federal sources said the defector and his family were escorted to safety only 30 minutes before Korean agents arrived at his U.S. home.
The Senate said Derwinski’s record was otherwise unblemished and unanimously confirmed him.
Well into retirement, the plain-spoken Derwinski mentored several Republican lawmakers, including Christine Radogno, a leader in the Illinois Senate.
He taught her to “always keep perspective,” she said, and to remember that “every issue is not the end of the world.”
Derwinski is survived by his wife, Bonnie; daughter, Maureen Quattrocki; son, Michael; stepdaughter, Maggie Hickey; stepson, Kevin Hickey; a sister, Bernadette Ferrara; and seven grandchildren.
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