It is generally recognized that Ike Skelton will be remembered as one of Missouri’s greatest members to ever serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. He died this past Monday of what a funeral home in his Missouri hometown of Lexingtom said were complications from pneumonia. He was 81 years old and served in the U.S. House for 34 years. He was defeated in his re-election bid in 2010.
Although he never served in the military, he was one of the strongest advocates for our Armed Forces and served for a period as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Skelton has strong ties to Franklin County. He was married to Susan Anding of Pacific. She preceded him in death. He also was a college roommate of Tom Fenner of Washington, former presiding commissioner of Franklin County. In fact, he was best man in Tom Fenner’s wedding in 1958. Fenner said Skelton’s death was “overwhelming” and a shock to him. They kept in touch by telephone every couple of months. After losing his House seat, Skelton joined a law firm in Washington, D.C.
There was another connection. When a student at Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, even though he was crippled from a bout with polio, Skelton ran track. His left arm had to be tied to his body so he could have the proper balance as a runner. His track coach was Col. Edgar Muench, who grew up in Washington, spent time visiting his sister Adele Kasel here, and was well-known by Washington residents, Fenner recalled.
At the University of Missouri, Fenner said, Skelton was an honor student and was awarded about every honor his fraternity could bestow on him. Skelton was a Phi Beta Kappa. He also earned a law degree at MU and after passing the bar, joined his father in the practice of law in Lexington. He also attended the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He served as a special attorney general and served in the Missouri Senate from 1970-76. He was elected to the U.S. House, District 4, in 1976.
Fenner related that since Skelton had no use of his left arm, and only partial use of his right arm, he needed help in getting dressed and even in cutting some of his food. Fenner helped him whenever he could. Skelton’s father was a close friend of Harry Truman, who encouraged Ike to seek public office.
One of the occasions that Fenner fondly recalls in their relationship was in 1960. Fenner was working in California. The Democratic convention was in Los Angeles. That’s when Jack Kennedy was nominated for president. Ike secured a floor pass for Fenner to attend the convention and sit with the Missouri delegation. He couldn’t vote but remembers well the political maneuvering he witnessed. Although Susan Anding was a MU graduate, she and Ike met through Democratic political activities. Susan’s mother, Virginia, was active in Democratic politics in Franklin County and Missouri.
Skelton married Patty R. Martin of Lexington in 2009. He and his first wife, Susan, raised three sons.
Our military lost one of its closest friends in Skelton. America also lost a great patriot and public servant.