As the longest-serving senator to represent Michigan, Carl Levin touched countless lives across generations. Michiganders share their stories after his passing July 29.
DETROIT—Former Sen. Carl Levin, the longest-serving senator in Michigan history, died July 29. He was 87.
“We’ve lost a giant [with] the passing of US Sen. Carl Levin. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore,” wrote Butch Hollowell, managing partner at The Miller Law Firm in Detroit, after news broke about the death of Sen. Levin Thursday night. “When my mentor Judge Damon Keith died in 2019 and we were planning his funeral, Carl, long since retired, called me. Said he wanted to attend the viewing at the Museum of African American History … He was so happy to engage with the well-wishers. That unmistakable flicker in his eyes. That warm smile that just pulled you in.”
Hollowell told anecdotes about being Levin’s first DC intern—how he was shocked at how old and beat-up Levin’s car was when driving the senator to a White House meeting, how folksy he was in his opposition to the Star Wars missile defense system in the 1980s, calling for “Star Schools” instead.
Carl Levin was a cornerstone of Michigan for the entire lives of many of the younger generations in the state. He was connected to our parents, he was ever-present in our communities, he was always there.
“I was fortunate to spend time talking with he and his wife at the Shimmer on the River a few years ago (2018 o[r] 2019, I think),” wrote bird enthusiast and Macomb Community College professor Jim Bull. “He told me he was becoming a birder, and was fascinated about a large gathering of birds he saw recently. I was sorry I couldn’t help him identify those birds … Rest in Peace, Sen. Levin—you worked so hard, and left this world a much better place because of your tireless efforts!”
“Senator Levin and my dad shared an office suite in the City County Building when they were both first elected to the Detroit City Council in the late 1960s through the mid ‘70s,” said St. Clair High School science teacher Mark Eberhard on Facebook. “They remained friends until my dad passed in 2016—it was not unusual for Sen. Levin to just drop by the church on Gratiot for a short visit. Thank you for your many years of service Sen. Levin!”
“He was an honorable, compassionate and extremely effective leader and true statesman for Michigan and the U.S. Senate,” tweeted Detroiter Anne Doyle, host of the podcast Power Up Women.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) also knew the late senator well through a long family friendship and, in particular, the bond between Levin and her late husband, Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn).
“Aside from notable public service, Carl was an ever-present family man and friend that exuded compassion and respect for everyone,” she wrote. “He and John had an inseparable bond and could always be seen saving a seat for one another. This strong bond was tied together by their deep passion for public service, their Michigan roots, and a love for witty humor.”
Michigan’s longest-serving US senator had a slightly rumpled, down-to-earth demeanor that helped him win over voters throughout his 36-year career, as did his staunch support for the hometown auto industry. But the Harvard-educated attorney also was a respected voice on military issues, spending years leading the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee.
And he didn’t fear speaking his mind.
He was in the minority—even among his Democratic Senate colleagues—when he voted against sending US troops to Iraq in 2002, and two years later he said President George W. Bush’s administration had “written the book on how to mismanage a war.” He gave a cautious endorsement to President Barack Obama’s 2009 buildup of troops in Afghanistan, but later warned of “the beginnings of fraying” of Democratic support.
He was also critical of President Ronald Reagan’s buildup of nuclear weapons, saying it came at the expense of conventional weapons needed to maintain military readiness.
Famous for wearing his eyeglasses down on his nose, Levin seemed to be the same candid, hardworking guy wherever he went, whether he was in front of cameras on Capitol Hill, on an overseas fact-finding mission, or lost in the crowd of a college football stadium on game day.
Despite his record tenure and status, he kept his role in perspective. At his direction, the portraits of all 38 senators who had served before or with him since Michigan’s statehood in 1837 were hung in his office conference room. Two empty spaces were reserved for future senators.
“I’m part of a long trail of people who have represented Michigan,” Levin said in 2008. “I’m just part of that history. The people coming after me … can pick up where I leave off, whoever they might be.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.