For a man who had one of the most partisan jobs in all of Washington, the late U.S. Rep. Guy Vander Jagt turned out to be more of a uniting than a dividing force. That is how his friends and colleagues remembered him on August 2 at a Capitol Hill memorial service, which honored the former Michigan Congressman and Baker Hostetler attorney who died on June 22 at age 75 from pancreatic cancer.
Vander Jagt's service drew more than 500 people—a mix of current and former lawmakers along with high-powered lobbyists and government officials, friends befitting a man who spent more than 40 years in and around Washington, D.C. Vander Jagt, of Luther, represented western Michigan in Congress. In addition to Vice President Dick Cheney, the audience included two former House Speakers, Republican and Democratic House and Senate leadership, numerous Committee Chairmen, current and former Cabinet Secretaries, ambassadors, two governors, and many current and former house and senate members.
The service was held in the stately House Ways and Means Committee hearing room in the Longworth House Office Building. Vander Jagt had served for many years on the committee, which handles trade, tax and health policy.
Two prominent Democrats and House committee chairmen—Charlie Rangel of New York and Tom Lantos of California—spoke at the service. Rangel currently chairs the Ways and Means Committee, which is where he and Vander Jagt met and befriended each other. "This is Guy's home," said Rangel of the committee hearing room. "This is the place of his creative thinking. This is the place where he made friends doing the nation's work."
In his tribute, Vice President Cheney praised Vander Jagt for his oratorical skills, noting that "when he stepped to the well (of the House), Democrats and Republican alike stopped to pay attention."
"Guy was good company," said the vice president, who was introduced to Vander Jagt by then President Gerald Ford some 30 years ago. "He was a good example and a very, very good man."
Cheney sat beside Vander Jagt's wife, Carol, and his daughter, Virginia (Ginny), during the service, which included a string quartet and a pianist and vocalist from the United States Marine Band. Several large black and white photos of Vander Jagt looked out at the crowd.
Steve Lotterer, longtime aide and friend, said: "Guy's spirit brought out the best in both sides of the political and policy debate—and won him respect on both sides of the political aisle . . . Being with Guy made you feel special. And I was blessed with that feeling as we criss-crossed this great land for over one million miles—to all 50 states—in over 750 campaign and speech appearances."
Bill Schweitzer, who has served as Managing Partner of Baker Hostetler's Washington, D.C., office for more than a decade said, "His clients knew that Guy was working for them and not himself and they appreciated that. In simple terms, Guy Vander Jagt ‘got it.' So many people are unable to see contrary positions and so unwilling to even listen to opposing points of view. Not Guy! He listened, evaluated and treated everyone with respect. In our law office, Guy was respected, liked and loved by everyone—from the mailroom to the executive office—because he did not vary his behavior because of a person's standing or position."
"Guy was always bigger than partisanship," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (at right) of Vander Jagt, who oversaw House GOP campaign recruitment and fundraising efforts for 18 years. "He loved America more than he loved the Republican Party."
Ginny Vander Jagt told the crowd that her father was a "master at bringing out the music in other people's lives." She said that his final days were made better by all the cards, flowers and visits from his many Washington friends. "Your friendship lightened those dark days and brightened his life," she said.