Charles H. Percy

Charles H. Percy
Charles Harting Percy
United States Senator
from Illinois
In office
January 3, 1967 – January 3, 1985
Preceded by Paul Douglas
Succeeded by Paul M. Simon
Personal details
Born September 27, 1919(1919-09-27)
Pensacola, Escambia County
Florida, USA
Died September 17, 2011(2011-09-17) (aged 91)
Washington, D.C.
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Jeanne Valerie Dickerson, June 12, 1943-1947 her death
Loraine Diane Guyer, Aug. 27, 1950-Sep. 17, 2011 his death
Children Sharon Lee (b. 1944)
Valerie Jeanne (1944-1966)
Roger (b. 1947)
Gail (b. 1953)
Mark (b. 1955)
Alma mater University of Chicago A.B. 1941
Religion Christian Science
Military service
Service/branch United States Navy
Rank Lieutenant
Battles/wars World War II
Awards 1949 one of 10 outstanding young men of U.S. Jr. C. of C.
1955 World Trade award World Trade Award Com.
1956 Nat. Sales Execs. Mgmt. award
1962 Bus. Man of Year award Sat. Rev.
1962 Statesmanship award Harvard Bus. Sch. Assn., Chgo.
1962 Humanitarian Service award Abraham Lincoln Ctr.
1986 Humanitarian of the Yr. award Save the Children Found.
1965 Top-Hat award Nat. Fedn. Bus. and Profl. Women's Clubs
1965 Bus. Adminstrn. award Drexel Inst. Tech.
1982 UNICEF World of Children award
Lifetime Achievement Award Alliance to Save Energy
comdr. French Legion of Honor

Charles Harting "Chuck" Percy (September 27, 1919 – September 17, 2011) was president of the Bell & Howell Corporation from 1949 to 1964. He was elected United States Senator from Illinois in 1966, re-elected through his term ending in 1985; he concentrated on business and foreign relations. He was a member of the Republican Party.


Early life and education

Charles Harting Percy was born in Pensacola, the seat of Escambia County in far northwestern Florida, the son of Edward H. Percy and the former Elisabeth Harting.[4] His father, an Alabama native, was an automobile salesman or bank cashier. His Illinois-born mother was a concert violinist. Edward H. Percy was a son of Charles Brown Percy and Helen Leila Herndon, from the powerful Herndon family of Virginia.[5][6] Elizabeth Harting was a daughter of Phineas Fredrick Harting and Belle Aschenbach.[7]

The family moved to Chicago when Percy was an infant. As a child, he was notable for his entrepreneurial energy, and often held several jobs while attending school. In the mid-1930s, his pluck brought him to the attention of his Sunday school teacher, Joseph McNabb, the president of Bell & Howell, then a small camera company.

Percy completed high school at New Trier High School. He entered the University of Chicago on a half tuition scholarship. He completed his degree in economics in 1941.[1][4]


Percy started at Bell & Howell in 1938 as an apprentice and sales trainee. In 1939 he worked at Crowell Collier. He went to work full time for Bell & Howell in 1941, after college. Within a year he was appointed a director of the company. Percy served three years in the United States Navy during World War II and returned to the company in 1945.[3]

After Joseph McNabb died in 1949, Percy was made the president of Bell & Howell. In 1949, the Jaycees named Percy one of the "Outstanding Young Men in America", along with Gerald R. Ford, Jr., of Michigan (future U.S. President) and John Ben Shepperd (future Texas Attorney General.)

During his more than two-decade leadership of Bell & Howell, Percy led the company through years of expansion, with a 32-fold increase in company sales, a 12-fold increase in employees, and taking the company public, with a listing for stock sales on the New York Stock Exchange. While continuing to make a variety of movie cameras for military, commercial and home use; and movie and sound projectors, in the late 1940s, the company branched into the production of microfilm. Later it entered the information services markets as well.

Political career

In the late 1950s, Percy decided to enter politics. With the encouragement of then U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Percy helped to write Decisions for a Better America, which proposed a set of long-range goals for the Republican Party. He was considered to be a liberal Republican, among a group from the Northeast and Midwest.

Percy first entered electoral politics with a run for governor in 1964, which he narrowly lost to Democratic incumbent Otto Kerner. During his gubernatorial campaign, Percy reluctantly endorsed Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, his future Senate colleague, who fared poorly in Illinois.

U.S. Senate

In 1966, Percy ran for senator from Illinois; he upset the Democratic senator Paul Douglas (a former professor of Percy's at the University of Chicago) with 56 percent of the vote. During that campaign, Percy's 21-year-old daughter Valerie was murdered at the family home under mysterious circumstances, apparently by an intruder. He suspended the campaign for two weeks. Valerie Percy's murder has never been solved, despite a long investigation.[2] Following the murder, CBS postponed, and eventually canceled, its planned airing of the Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho.

In 1967, Senator Percy introduced a bill to establish a program to stimulate production of low-cost housing. Percy's proposal was the first of its kind to provide home ownership to low-income families, and it received strong support from Republicans in both the House and the Senate. When asked why he selected housing for his first major legislative proposal, Percy said: "Of all the problems I ran across during three years of campaigning, first for the governorship and then for the Senate, the most appalling in their consequences for the future seemed to be the problems of the declining areas of the city and countryside, the inadequacy of housing."

In 1978, as Percy was completing his second term, he appeared invincible.[8] Percy was considered so strong that the Democratic party was unable to persuade any serious candidates to challenge him.[9] Emerging from the Democratic primary was the dark horse candidate, Alex Seith, who had never before sought elected office but had served as an appointee on the Cook County Zoning Board of Appeals for twelve years, nine as chairman.

But at that time, Percy's reputation as a Rockefeller Republican, contrasted with Seith's ostensible hard-line foreign policy positions, combined to make Percy suddenly vulnerable in the weeks before the election. Sensing his improbable loss, Percy went on television days before the polling and, with tear-filled eyes, pleaded with Illinois voters to give him another chance. He said, "I got your message and you're right . . . I'm sure that I've made my share of mistakes, but your priorities are mine."[10] He won re-election by a 54% to 46% margin.

Percy served in the Senate until 1985, when he was narrowly defeated for re-election in 1984 by the liberal Congressman Paul Simon In 2006, in writing about the influence of political lobbies on the U.S. relationship with Israel, political theorists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote that they believed Percy's loss resulted from the campaign waged against him by the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).[11] The lobbying group controlled substantial monies and helped lawmakers who they believed supported the security of Israel. Earlier that year, Percy had supported the cause of Karl Linnas, a concentration camp commander who was to be deported back to Estonia, having lied in the papers he used to enter the United States. Linnas had ordered, and participated in, the murders of Jews and other prisoners.[12]

While in the Senate, Percy was active in the areas of business and international affairs. Although he explored the possibility of running for President in 1968 and 1976, he did not run either time. During the early 1970s, he clashed with the policies of President Nixon and criticized the U.S. conduct of the Vietnam War.

In 1977, Percy and Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey - responding to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and high energy prices in general - created the Alliance to Save Energy[13] to encourage a national commitment to energy efficiency. Sen. Percy was the founding chairman of the organization.[14]

Perhaps Percy's most important act, and his longest-lasting legacy, was ending the practice of nominating federal judges from the Chicago political machine. He implemented a system of consultation with, and advice from, several groups, including the professional bar association, which was considered novel at the time.[15] One of his nominees, John Paul Stevens, was selected by Gerald Ford as a justice of the United States Supreme Court.[15]

Percy said of the Autobiography of Malcolm X, that "Every white person should read it."[16]

Marriage and family

Percy was a Christian Scientist.[4] During World War II, Percy married Jeanne Dickerson. They had twin daughters, Valerie and Sharon (born 1944), and a son Roger (born 1947). Jeanne died in 1947, of a violent reaction to drugs after a seemingly simple and successful operation. In 1950, Percy married Loraine Guyer. Their children were Gail (born 1953) and Mark (born 1955).

About a year after the murder of her twin sister Valerie, in 1966, Sharon Percy married John D. Rockefeller IV,[4] who was later elected to two terms (1977-1985) as the Democratic Governor of West Virginia and has been a United States Senator from that state since 1985.

He remained after leaving political office, but suffered from Alzheimer's disease in his later years.[17]

He died on September 17, 2011 at the Washington Home and Community Hospice in Washington, D.C..[18][4]


  1. ^ a b Langer, Emily (September 18, 2011). "Charles H. Percy, 91 - GOP senator's star rose quickly". Washington Post. 
  2. ^ a b Goudie, Chuck (September 14, 2006). "Percy Killing: The Forty Year File 9/15/06". abc7chicago. Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  3. ^ a b "Charles Harting Percy" (fee, via Fairfax County Public Library). The Complete Marquis Who's Who. Marquis Who's Who. 2010. Gale Document Number: GALE|K2013030218. Retrieved 2011-09-18.  Gale Biography In Context.
  4. ^ a b c d e Clymer, Adam (2011-09-17). "Charles Percy, Former Ill. Senator, Is Dead at 91". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-9-17. 
  5. ^ "Edward H. Percy", Rootsweb
  6. ^ Herndon, John W. (April 1902). "A Genealogy of the Herndon Family" (fee). The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (Virginia Historical Society) 9 (4): 439–441. 
  7. ^ "Elizabeth Harting", Rootsweb
  8. ^ "Percy's Problem". TIME. 1978-11-06.,9171,948264,00.html?promoid=googlep. Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  9. ^ Manning, Al. "The slatemaking saga of Democrats — without Daley – Was anybody happy?". Northern Illinois University. 
  10. ^ ""Got Your Message"". TIME. 1978-11-20.,9171,948300-1,00.html. Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  11. ^ Mearsheimer, John; Walt, Stephen (23 March 2006). "The Israel Lobby". London Review of Books 28 (6). Retrieved 2011-09-06. "Thomas A. Dine, the president of AIPAC, said, "All Jews from coast to coast gathered to oust Percy. And the American politicians – those who hold public positions now, and those who aspire – got the message."" 
  12. ^ Jack Anderson (14 January 1985). "D'Amato disowns letter". The Evening News (Newburgh, NY): p. 4.,1239299. 
  13. ^ ""Our History"". Alliance To Save Energy. Retrieved 2011-09-20. 
  14. ^ ""Board of Directors"". Alliance To Save Energy. Retrieved 2011-09-20. 
  15. ^ a b Littlewood, Tom (April 1976). "How Sen. Percy exercises prerogative in nominating judgeship candidates". Illinois Issues II (4). Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  16. ^ "I can Hear it Now": The 1960s", an audio recording with Walter Cronkite
  17. ^ "SENATOR AND MRS. ROCKEFELLER HONORED AT NATIONAL ALZHEIMER'S GALA". Senator Rockefeller. March 26, 2009. Retrieved 2011-09-18. 
  18. ^ Pearson, Rick (September 17, 2011). "Former U.S. Sen. Charles Percy dies". Chicago Tribune.,0,2174095.story. Retrieved 2011-09-18. 

External links

United States Senate
Preceded by
Paul Douglas
United States Senator (Class 2) from Illinois
Served alongside: Everett Dirksen, Ralph Tyler Smith,
Adlai Stevenson III, Alan J. Dixon
Succeeded by
Paul Simon
Political offices
Preceded by
Frank Church
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Succeeded by
Richard Lugar

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