CHICAGO — Former U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon, an Illinois Democrat whose career in national and state politics spanned more than 40 consecutive years in public office, died Sunday, his son said. He was 86.
Dixon, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1981 to 1993, died at his home in Fairview Heights the day before his 87th birthday. A cancer survivor, he had recently been hospitalized for heart problems and been battling infections, but his condition had recently improved and he’d returned home, his son Jeffrey Dixon told The Associated Press. No official cause of death was released.
“He was a very caring, generous man to his family,” his son said. “He always instilled values in all of us to, ‘Tell the truth, to smile all the time and they’ll be nice to you.’”
Dixon got an early start in politics.
After being elected police magistrate in Belleville, he won an Illinois House seat in 1950. He went on to serve in the Illinois Senate and as the state’s treasurer and secretary of state. He won his U.S. Senate seat in 1980 and served there until his surprising loss in the 1992 Democratic primary to Carol Moseley Braun.
Dixon was remembered Sunday for winning nearly every election he sought, as a leader who could bring Republicans and Democrats together — starting the first bipartisan Illinois congressional lunches — and his local approach to politics even as a U.S. senator. His style earned him the nickname “Al the Pal.” He returned constituent calls himself, was accessible to the public with weekend office hours and loved beer, recalled Thom Serafin, a Chicago political analyst who served as a press secretary for Dixon.
“He was your Norman Rockwell U.S. senator who believed that if a constituent called him, he called them back. He always said, ‘I can’t promise you the job, but I can promise that I’ll work like heck,’” Serafin said. “He was always the local guy. He was always Al.”