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Former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin dies at the age of 87

Carl Levin 2011
Posted at 9:54 PM, Jul 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-30 18:24:45-04

(WXYZ) — Carl Levin, the longest-serving U.S. Senator in Michigan’s history, has died. Levin was 87.

Related: 'A champion for Michigan.' Reaction pours in after death of Carl Levin

Levin's passing was announced by the Levin Center on Twitter.

Levin served the people of Michigan for 36 years from 1978 until his term ended with his retirement in January 2015.

He was born on June 28, 1934 in Detroit and was a graduate of Detroit Public Schools before going to college at Swarthmore in Pennsylvania and then to Harvard Law School where he graduated in 1959.

Related: WATCH: Carl Levin gives farewell address to U.S. Senate in 2014

Following his graduation, Levin was the general counsel for the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, a special assistant attorney general for the state and for the city fo Detroit.

Levin was elected to the Detroit City Council in 1969 and served as the council’s president from 1974 to 1977.

In 1978, he narrowly defeated Republican incumbent Robert Griffin in the race for a Senate seat. He nearly lost his first bid for re-election, in 1984, but went on to win several races against now prominent Republicans, including Bill Schuette in 1990 and current GOP Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel in 1996.

Related: PHOTO GALLERY: Carl Levin, Michigan's longest-serving U.S. senator, dies at 87

During his time in the Senate, Levin served on several committees, but his top assignment was the chair of the Armed Services Committee. He served as the chair in 2001, 2001-2003 and 2007-2015, and was the ranking Democratic member on the committee going back to 1997.

He sponsored or co-sponsored 673 bills in the Senate that eventually became law, including several involving Michigan’s wilderness and the Whistleblower Act of 1989.

In 2016, the Department of Defense honored Levin by giving him the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the highest medal awarded by the DOD. He was given the award with another former Armed Services committee chair, former Republican Sen. John Warner.

Then Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Levin and Warner were “a model for bipartisan leadership on a national defense and for partnership between branches of government.”

Levin was called “Mr. Integrity” during his time in the senate, according to Carter.

“Every day he served, he always put our country – and our troops – first…right up until his last day in office,” Carter said. “He was even late to his own retirement party – I understand – because he was busy managing NDAA on the Senate floor.”

In December 2014, Levin addressed the Senate one final time before his retirement.

“I will enjoy reading about the Senate’s progress in the years ahead, as Barbara and I are sitting on a Lake Michigan beach, or showing the world to our grandkids,” he said finishing his nearly 17-minute speech to a standing ovation..

Levin is one of many in his family to go into politics. His older brother, Sander Levin, was a member of the House of Representatives from 1983-2019, and his nephew, Andy, took over for Sander’s seat in 2019.

After his retirement, Levin announced he was joining Honingman Business Law Firm in Detroit, where he assisted companies in identifying and addressing risks that may bring them under public scrutiny, provided strategic advice to companies about public policy, and more.

Levin's nephew, Congressman Andy Levin released the following statement about the senator's passing:

“Throughout my adult life, wherever I went in Michigan, from Copper Harbor to Monroe, I would run into people who would say, ‘I don’t always agree with Senator Levin, but I support him anyway because he is so genuine, he tells it straight and he follows through.’

“Carl Levin personified integrity and the notion of putting the public good above self-interest. As he walked about the Capitol in a rumpled suit, almost always with a plain white shirt and pedestrian tie, carrying bulging files with the occasional paper flying away, Carl was the very picture of sober purpose and rectitude. In truth, he wasn’t unfun. In fact, he often pierced tense situations with self-deprecating humor, and he privately shared incisive observations about others with staff and colleagues.

“But Carl was all about the work, and the great honor the people of Michigan had bestowed upon him with their votes and their trust. He did not seek to divine their views to be popular, but rather to study the issues and advance the people’s interest to the best of his ability. Uncle Carl met with more presidents, kings, queens and other important people than all but a few of us ever will. But he treated them all the same as he did a Detroit autoworker or a beet farmer in Michigan’s Thumb – with a full measure of dignity but no airs, ever ready to puncture self-importance, posturing, mendacity and avarice.

“He was so well-prepared for every meeting, hearing, and conference that he challenged conventional boundaries between senator and staff. He was one of the most challenging senators to work for and one of the most rewarding. Challenging, because you had better know your business in detail, since he surely did. Rewarding, because he had authentic relationships with staff, treated them with deep respect, and was loyal to them.

“Uncle Carl was above all a family man. No matter the pressing business he faced as a senator, he always centered Aunt Barbara, my cousins Kate, Laura and Erica and their families, devoted time to them and so obviously cherished them. And the way he loved and treated his family radiated out and served as a model for how he treated colleagues, staff, constituents, soldiers and the world.

"From my earliest memory to this moment, perhaps above all, he has defined with my dad how close two brothers, two siblings, two people can be. In the end, these two Jewish boys from Detroit, these grandsons of immigrants each served 36 years in Congress, 32 of them together, becoming by far the longest co-serving siblings in the 232-year history of this place. As heartbroken as we are in this moment, I feel so grateful to have experienced this love and legacy.”