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University of Missouri

A Lifetime of Public Service

Former Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton died Oct. 28, 2013, at 81.

Rep. Ike Skelton

Public domain photo.

A young Ike Skelton (D-Lexington) dreamed about serving his country in the military, but his hopes were dashed after contracting polio as a teenager. Instead, he became a Missouri congressman and spent 34 years building a reputation as an advocate for service members and their families. Skelton, BA ’53, JD ’56, died in Arlington, Va., Oct. 28, 2013, at 81.

Born in Lexington, Mo., in 1931, Skelton returned home to practice law after graduating from Mizzou. He served as county prosecutor and state senator before being elected to Congress in 1976, where he would go on to win re-election 16 times.

Skelton’s record for supporting the military started when he joined the Armed Services Committee in 1981, eventually serving as its chair from 2007–11. In 1984, he relocated the Army military police, chemical and engineer schools to Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, which quadrupled the number of soldiers on post. In the late ’80s, he urged the Department of Defense to house the then-new B-2 bomber at the Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster, Mo., securing the base’s future.

“Leading the House Armed Services Committee as chairman has been the greatest honor of my public life,” Skelton told those attending a November 2010 ROTC breakfast, shortly after losing his re-election bid to Rep. Vicky Hartzler, BS Ed ’83.

Skelton joined the Kansas City law firm Husch Blackwell after his defeat. Two weeks before his death, he published a memoir, Achieve the Honorable (Southern Illinois University Press, 2013).

“Those of us lucky enough to call him a friend know that he lived the Missouri values of compromise and common sense,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, BA ’76, JD ’77, said of Skelton after his death. “And in his service, he showed how Missouri could be a leader in contributing to the safety and security of our nation.”