If you were fortunate enough to meet former Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton, and got to know him, respect followed. This great American died Monday at age 81. He served 34 years in the U.S. House, representing central and southern Missouri. He was a native of Lexington, Mo. He died at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va. He had been hospitalized about a week.

His expertise was in military affairs and national defense. When the Democrats were in control of the House, he chaired for a period the powerful Armed Services Committee, being named to that group in 1981. Rep. Skelton was responsible for the growth of Whiteman Air Force Base and Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. He had tremendous clout, something Missouri has little of now in the House because of a lack of seniority of our members. The permanent military status of Whiteman and Fort Wood are due to the influence of Ike Skelton.

It was a shock when he lost his House seat in 2010 to Republican Vicky Hartzler of Harrisonville. His district had changed. Missouri lost a great leader in Congress with his defeat. He was a moderate Democrat and conservative on a number of issues. He had hoped to serve in the military, but a bout with polio while in his teens restricted the use of his arms. However, he did become a college athlete. He earned a degree in history and a law degree from the University of Missouri. He served in the Missouri Senate in the 1970s.

People still recall a major address he gave at the University of Missouri in 2007 when he emphasized how important it was for military leaders to have a firm grasp of history to prepare for future battles.

Missouri members of the National Newspaper Association remember well the time spent with Rep. Skelton in his office on visits to Washington, D.C. He always had time for Missourians. We remember one visit when he became quite emotional when talking about our troops in Iraq. He cared deeply for members of the military.

There was nothing flamboyant about Rep. Skelton. Rather he always had a dignified and reserved presence. He was a hard-working and very responsible member of Congress who represented his state at the highest level of concern about its well-being and that of the country. Elected public officials of the stature of Ike Skelton don’t come around very often. He had statesman qualities. Missouri was fortunate to have a U.S. representative of the caliber of Ike Skelton.