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Former Illinois Sen. Charles Percy dies at 91

CHICAGO — Former Sen. Charles H. Percy, a successful Chicago businessman once widely viewed as a top presidential contender, described himself as "a conservative on money issues but a liberal on people issues."

That unwavering commitment to moderate values often put the former Foreign Relations Committee chairman at odds with conservatives in the Republican party, including former President Richard Nixon, but that didn't deter him in the 18 years he represented Illinois in the Senate.

Mr. Percy sponsored a resolution calling for a special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal and became a critic of the Vietnam War.

He died Saturday in Washington at 91.

Mr. Percy's daughter, Sharon Rockefeller, announced in March 2009 that he had Alzheimer's disease. His death was announced by the office of his son-in-law, West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller.

Elected to the first of his three Senate terms in 1966, Mr. Percy was mentioned as a possible presidential candidate. He was helped by handsome looks, a rich baritone voice and the relaxed self-confidence of the successful business executive he once was.

But the silver-haired senator, a supporter of the GOP's Nelson Rockefeller wing, came to power when moderate Republicans were becoming unfashionable on Capitol Hill. He ended up backing former President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976 rather than pursuing it himself.

After that, his chances seemed to fade. He won one more term in 1978 but was narrowly defeated for re-election in 1984 by Democrat Rep. Paul Simon.

Former Illinois Gov. James Thompson, who Mr. Percy backed for U.S. attorney in Chicago, said of the late senator: "While he was unquestionably a Republican party member and promoter, he was a man who could work with Democrats and independents, as well, who wanted only the best for his state and his country," and that Mr. Percy "avoided the personal polarizing politics that seems to infest us at every level today."

In a statement, Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk said Mr. Percy's "brand of moderate fiscal conservatism will be missed."

During Mr. Percy's first campaign for the Senate, one his 21-year-old twin daughters, Valerie, was bludgeoned and stabbed to death in her bed in the family's home in suburban Kenilworth. No one has ever been charged in the case.

The surviving twin, Sharon Rockefeller, is president and chief executive of WETA, the public broadcasting station in Washington. Mr. Percy also had a son, Roger, with his first wife, Jeanne Dickerson, who died in 1947. He married Loraine Guyer in 1950, and they had a daughter, Gail, and son, Mark.

Charles Harting Percy was born in Pensacola on Sept. 27, 1919, the son of Edward Percy and Elizabeth Harting.

Former Illinois Sen. Charles Percy dies at 91 09/17/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 17, 2011 9:04pm]
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