Lawmakers hold service for John Dingell mid-air as weather tangles travel

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., was among the members of Congress en route to Dearborn for the funeral of John Dingell before weather dictated the plane turn back to Washington. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A military plane carrying members of Congress to Michigan for former Rep. John Dingell’s funeral were turned around due to weather issues, prompting the group to hold a mid-air memorial for the longest serving member of Congress.

The Dingell family announced Sunday that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. would join Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis and Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton in speaking at the service in Dearborn, Mich. Lewis and Upton were among those en route to the funeral in Dearborn, when weather in Detroit made landing unfeasible.

Along with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Missouri Republican Rep. Billy Long, the group held a service on the airplane to remember their former colleague. 

Father Pat Conroy, the House chaplain who was traveling with the congressional delegation, had been scheduled to preach during the funeral service. Rev. Terrence Kerner said during the Catholic mass that Rep. Debbie Dingell, John’s wife, had initially said he should give the homily but when he spoke with Conroy on the phone, the House chaplain insisted he knew John Dingell better and should preach.

“He was scheduled to fly in today into paradise, but because of the weather and everyone’s safety the plane was turned around,” Kerner said of Conroy. “They’re back in DC. So 10 minutes before mass I found out I was preaching.”

The House cancelled roll call votes Tuesday to accommodate members who wanted to attend Dingell’s funeral.

House and Senate leadership from both parties are scheduled to  gather on the House steps at 4 p.m. to pay their respects as the hearse carrying Dingell makes a final trip past the U.S. Capitol. 

“Members should bring an umbrella” advised the House Sergeant-at-Arms.

A funeral mass will be held Thursday for Dingell at Washington’s Holy Trinity Catholic Church at 10:30 a.m. It will be followed by a reception at Georgetown University.

Former President Bill Clinton and former Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, will speak the the service in D.C., as will current House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.

Dingell is a WWII-era veteran of the Army. He will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

Niels Lesniewski and Chris Cioffi contributed to this report.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.