Former Rep. Ike Skelton dead at 81

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Former Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton, a champion of the military who served 17 terms in the U.S. House before losing a re-election bid in 2010, has died. He was 81.

Skelton died Monday at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va., surrounded by family and friends, including longtime colleague Russell Orban.

The cause was not immediately released, but Orban says Skelton entered the hospital a week earlier with a cough. Oban confirmed Skelton's death to The Associated Press.

The Lexington, Mo., native was a Democrat and former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. He was elected to the Missouri State Senate in 1970 where he served six years before being elected to Congress.

Skelton lost to Republican Vicky Hartzler in 2010 in western Missouri's 4th Congressional District. He then joined the law firm of Kansas City-based Husch Blackwell, working in its offices in Kansas City and Washington.

Since his passing, many lawmakers have spoken out, giving condolences, including President Obama.

"He was beloved and respected by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and as Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Ike was a devoted advocate for our men and women in uniform," Obama said in a statement. "To many in Congress and across Missouri, Ike was a mentor and a friend, and he will be missed. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to his wife Patty, his family and loved ones."

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver also issued a statement after receiving the news Monday night.

"I have performed weddings and funerals for Ike and his family, and loved him dearly," Cleaver said. "There is nothing as strong as gentleness, and nothing as gentle as pure strength. Ike was all of that and more. Public service was a part of his very soul and the world is a colder place tonight."

"No member of the Congress was more dedicated to America's defense and those who defend us than Ike Skelton," Senator Roy Blunt said.

Governor Jay Nixon also gave a statement Monday night.

"A friend to Missourians, Americans and liberty-loving people worldwide, Congressman Skelton embodied the true meaning of public service and will forever be remembered as a leader who left a legacy of greater prosperity and security for his district, our state and our nation," Nixon said in the statement.

Skelton also served as a presidential appointee to the American Battle Monuments Commission and the World War I Centennial Commission.

You can watch Skelton's farewell speech on Youtube here:

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