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Charles H. Percy

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Title: Charles H. Percy  
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Subject: United States Senate election in Illinois, 1972, United States Senate election in Illinois, 1978, United States Senate election in Illinois, 1966, United States Senate election in Illinois, 1984, United States presidential election, 1968
Collection: 1919 Births, 2011 Deaths, American Chief Executives, American Christian Scientists, American Military Personnel of World War II, Businesspeople from Chicago, Illinois, Commandeurs of the Légion D'Honneur, Illinois Republicans, New Trier High School Alumni, People from Pensacola, Florida, People with Alzheimer's Disease, Politicians from Chicago, Illinois, Republican Party United States Senators, United States Navy Officers, United States Navy Personnel, United States Senators from Illinois, University of Chicago Alumni
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Charles H. Percy

Charles H. Percy
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
In office
January 3, 1981 – January 3, 1985
Preceded by Frank Church
Succeeded by Richard Lugar
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 Charles Harting Percy
(1919-09-27)September 27, 1919
Pensacola, Florida, USA
Died September 17, 2011(2011-09-17) (aged 91)
Washington, D.C.
Resting place Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C.
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Jeanne Valerie Dickerson, June 12, 1943–1947, her death
Loraine Diane Guyer, August 27, 1950 – September 17, 2011, his death
Children Sharon Lee (b. 1944)
Valerie Jeanne (1944–1966)
Roger (b. 1947)
Gail (b. 1953)
Mark (b. 1955)
Parents Edward H. and Elizabeth Harting Percy
Alma mater University of Chicago A.B. 1941
Religion Christian Science
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
Military service
Service/branch United States Navy
Rank Lieutenant
Battles/wars World War II

Charles Harting Percy (September 27, 1919 – September 17, 2011), known as Chuck Percy,[4] was an American businessman and politician. He was president of the Bell & Howell Corporation from 1949 to 1964. In 1966, he was elected to the United States Senate from Illinois as a Republican; he served for three terms (18 years) until 1985, when he was defeated by Paul Simon, and was mentioned as a GOP presidential hopeful from 1968 through 1988. During his Senate career, he concentrated on business and foreign relations.[5]


  • Early life and education 1
  • Career 2
  • Political career 3
    • U.S. Senate 3.1
  • Literary opinions 4
  • Marriage and family 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life and education

Charles Harting Percy was born in Pensacola, the seat of Escambia County in far northwestern Florida, to Edward H. Percy and the former Elizabeth Harting.[6] His father, an Alabama native descended from illustrious colonial-era Mississippians and Virginians, was at various times an automobile salesman and bank cashier. His Illinois-born mother was a concert violinist. Edward was a son of Charles Brown Percy and Helen Leila Herndon of the powerful Herndon family of Virginia.[7][8] Elizabeth Harting was a daughter of Phineas Fredrick Harting and Belle Aschenbach.[9]

The family moved to Chicago when Percy was an infant. As a child, he was notable for his entrepreneurial energy and held 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][6]


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]

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.[10]

After Joseph McNabb died in 1949, Percy was made the president of Bell & Howell, and was instrumental in a period of financial success and growth for the company.[11] During his leadership, Percy expanded Bell & Howell, raising revenues 32-fold and employees 12-fold and listing the company on the New York Stock Exchange. While continuing to manufacture movie cameras and movie and sound projectors for military, commercial, and home use, in the late 1940s the company diversified into the production of microfilm; it later 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 belonged to the liberal wing of the Republican party led during his presidency by Eisenhower and later closely identified with New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller.

Percy first entered electoral politics with a run for governor of Illinois in 1964, which he narrowly lost to Democratic incumbent Otto Kerner.[11] During his gubernatorial campaign, Percy reluctantly endorsed conservative Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, his future Senate colleague, who fared poorly in Illinois and throughout the country.

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.[12] During that campaign, Percy's 21-year-old daughter Valerie was murdered at the family home under mysterious circumstances, apparently by an intruder.[12] Valerie Percy's murder has never been solved, despite a long investigation.[2] Following the murder, CBS postponed, and eventually canceled the planned network premiere 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, although it ultimately did not pass.[11] 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."

Although he had been in the Senate less than two years, Percy was mentioned as a Republican hopeful for the 1968 Presidential nomination. The New York Times columnist James B. Reston referred to him as "the hottest political article in the Republican Party”.[4]

In 1978, as Percy was completing his second term, he appeared invincible.[13] Percy was considered so strong that the Democratic Party was unable to persuade any serious candidates to challenge him.[14] Alex Seith, a dark horse candidate, was his Democratic challenger. Seith 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."[15] He won re-election 53% to Seith's 46%.

Percy served in the Senate until the end of his third term in January 1985, after narrowly losing to Congressman Paul Simon in 1984. After Percy's defeat, no Republican would win a senatorial race in Illinois until Peter Fitzgerald in 1998.

In 2006, 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).[16] The lobbying group controlled substantial monies and helped lawmakers who they believed supported the security of Israel. Earlier that year, Percy and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dante Fascell, expressed sympathy for 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.[17] Percy's view, shared by Fascell and by Representative Donald L. Ritter of Pennsylvania and of the Helsinki Commission was that Linnas should be deported, but not to the Soviet Union.

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

In 1977, Percy and Sen.

United States Senate
Preceded by
Paul Douglas
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Illinois
January 3, 1967 – January 3, 1985
Served alongside: Everett Dirksen, Ralph Tyler Smith, Adlai Stevenson III, Alan J. Dixon
Succeeded by
Paul Simon
Preceded by
Frank Church
Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee
January 3, 1981 – January 3, 1985
Succeeded by
Richard Lugar

External links

  1. ^ a b Langer, Emily (September 18, 2011). "Charles H. Percy, 91 - GOP senator's star rose quickly".  
  2. ^ a b Goudie, Chuck (September 14, 2006). "Percy Killing: The Forty Year File 9/15/06".  
  3. ^ a b "Charles Harting Percy". The Complete Marquis Who's Who.  (subscription required) Gale Biography In Context.
  4. ^ a b Clymer, Adam (September 17, 2011). "Charles Percy, Former Ill. Senator, Is Dead at 91". New York Times. Retrieved October 14, 2014. 
  5. ^ Stephen Hess and David S. Broder. The Republican Establishment: The Present and Future of the G.O.P. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.
  6. ^ a b c d e  
  7. ^ "Edward H. Percy", Rootsweb
  8. ^ Herndon, John W. (April 1902). "A Genealogy of the Herndon Family". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography ( (subscription required)
  9. ^ "Elizabeth Harting", Rootsweb
  10. ^ The Forties. Peoria Jaycees. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
  11. ^ a b c Clymer, Adam (September 17, 2011). "Charles Percy, Former Ill. Senator, Is Dead at 91".  
  12. ^ a b Kenney, Hartley, David, Robert E. (2003). An Uncertain Tradition : U.S. Senators from Illinois, 1818-2003. SIU Press. p. 177. Retrieved September 16, 2015. 
  13. ^ "Percy's Problem".  
  14. ^ Manning, Al. "The slatemaking saga of Democrats — without Daley – Was anybody happy?".  
  15. ^ "Got Your Message". TIME. November 20, 1978. Retrieved July 21, 2009. 
  16. ^  
  17. ^ Jack Anderson (January 14, 1985). "D'Amato disowns letter". The Evening News (Newburgh, NY). p. 4. 
  18. ^ "Our History". Alliance To Save Energy. Retrieved September 20, 2011. 
  19. ^ "Board of Directors". Alliance To Save Energy. Retrieved September 20, 2011. 
  20. ^ a b Littlewood, Tom (April 1976). "How Sen. Percy exercises prerogative in nominating judgeship candidates". Illinois Issues II (4). Retrieved July 21, 2009. 
  21. ^ "I can Hear it Now": The 1960s", an audio recording with Walter Cronkite
  23. ^ Pearson, Rick (September 17, 2011). "Former U.S. Sen. Charles Percy dies".  


Percy remained active after leaving political office but suffered from Alzheimer's disease in later years.[22] He died on September 17, 2011, at the Washington Home and Community Hospice in Washington, D.C..[6][23]

Percy's daughter Valerie was beaten and stabbed to death in her bed on September 18, 1966, in the family's home on Lake Michigan in Kenilworth. Although her stepmother had a brief glimpse of the killer and considerable resources were devoted to solving the crime, the identity of the murderer remains unknown. A year later, her twin sister Sharon Percy married John D. Rockefeller IV,[6] who was later elected Democratic Governor of West Virginia (1977–1985) and was a United States Senator for West Virginia from 1985 till 2015.

Percy was a Christian Scientist.[6] During World War II, he married Jeanne Dickerson. They had twin daughters, Valerie and Sharon (born 1944) and a son Roger (born 1946). After Jeanne Percy's death in 1947, Percy married Loraine Guyer in 1950. Their children are Gail (born 1953) and Mark (born 1955).

Marriage and family

Percy said of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, "Every white person should read it."[21]

Literary opinions

Perhaps Percy's most important act, and his longest-lasting legacy, was ending the practice of nominating federal judges from a pool of candidates generated by the Chicago political machine. He implemented a system of consultation with, and advice from, groups of legal experts, including the professional bar association, a practice considered novel at the time.[20] One of his nominees, John Paul Stevens, was selected by Gerald Ford as a justice of the United States Supreme Court.[20]

Percy was again mentioned for the presidency in 1980 and 1988, but his candidacies did not progress beyond their explorative stages.


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