Trip to Refuge sparks fond John Dingell memory

Debbie and John Dingell ª Photo by Mark Messer


I went recently and took some photos at the newly opened International Wildlife Refuge. 

It’s a great place to get with nature. Right on the Detroit River just south of the Trenton Edison plant on Jefferson. There are lots of trails and fishing! 

As I was leaving, a young lady conservationist who works there was walking on the same trail that I was on and we stopped to chat for about half an hour. 

I told her I remember shooting the groundbreaking for the site and was glad the Refuge was finally finished. 

I mentioned I talked to the late Congressman John Dingell before the groundbreaking ceremonies began.  

The very nice young lady looked at me with surprise and said: “You talked to John Dingell?” 

She was surprised that I had talked to the legendary Congressman, who in her eyes was a rock star. 

“Yes,” I said, and that leads me to a story.

I used to photograph Dingell at least a dozen times a year. Once I was assigned to meet up with the Congressman at his Dearborn headquarters and take a few photos for a story on his lifelong  service in Congress. He was in Congress for years and was highly connected in D.C.  

It was a Thursday morning and earlier that week at a cocktail party in Washington, Dingell had fainted and was rushed to the hospital. He was treated overnight and released. 

Anyway, the Congressman was back home in Dearborn and ready for the photo shoot.

When I arrived at his office, he greeted me with a box of Whitman’s chocolates in hand and asked me if I wanted some. We then sat down in his office, which was decorated with hunting related items such as a moose’s head mounted on the wall, a stuffed pheasant and other hunting memorabilia.  

We were talking about hunting for a while when there was a knock on the door. It was his secretary who said, “Excuse me,” to me and then looked at Congressman Dingell and said: “Congressman, the Vice President’s on the phone.” 

Dingell said to me, “Please excuse the interruption,” as he prepared to take the call. 

I asked if I could stay and take some shots during the phone call and he laughed and said “Sure.”  

He picked up the phone, leaned back on his reclining chair, put his feet up on the desk and said, “Hello Al.”  

I started taking photos while trying not to be intrusive as Dingell went about his phone call. He told the Vice President of the United States, Al Gore, that he was feeling better and wouldn’t have fainted if he had only drunk a few more champagnes. 

After 10 minutes or so, Congressman Dingell finished the phone call by telling the Vice President, “I hope to be calling you Mr. President soon.” 


As I made the drive back Downriver I had a smile on my face while thinking what I had just witnessed. I had been listening to two of the most powerful men in the United States, just friends having a casual phone conversation.  

I remember it like it was yesterday.

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