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Charles Harting Percy

In office
January 3, 1967 – January 3, 1985
Preceded by Paul Douglas
Succeeded by Paul M. Simon

Born September 27, 1919 (1919-09-27) (age 90)
Pensacola, Florida
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Jeanne Dickerson (deceased)
Loraine Guyer
Alma mater University of Chicago
Religion Christian Science
Military service
Service/branch United States Navy
Battles/wars World War II

Charles Harting "Chuck" Percy (born September 27, 1919) was chairman of the Bell & Howell Corporation from 1949 to 1964 and United States Senator from Illinois from 1967 to 1985. He is a member of the Republican Party.


Bell & Howell

Percy was born in Pensacola, Florida, the son of Edward H. Percy and Elizabeth (née Harting) Percy. His father, a native of Alabama, was an automobile salesman and his mother, born in Illinois, was a musician. The family moved to Chicago when he was an infant. As a child, he was notable for his entrepreneurial energy, and often held several jobs at once while also 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, which was then a small camera company.

Percy completed high school at New Trier High School. After Percy graduated from the University of Chicago (where he was a member of Alpha Delta Phi) in 1941, he went to work full time for Bell & Howell, and within a year he was made 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.

During the war, Percy married Jeanne Dickerson, who died in 1947. Percy, with three children to care for, remarried three years later, to Loraine Guyer.

After Joseph McNabb died in 1949, Percy was made the president of Bell & Howell. During Percy's presidency, company sales grew 32-fold, employment grew 12-fold, and the company went public on the New York Stock Exchange.

In 1949, Percy was named to the "Outstanding Young Men in America" list by the Jaycees, along with future U.S. President Gerald R. Ford, Jr., of Michigan and later state Attorney General John Ben Shepperd of Texas.

Illinois politics

In the late 1950s, Percy decided to enter politics. With the encouragement of then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Percy helped write Decisions for a Better America, which proposed a set of long-range goals for the Republican Party. Percy was then made the chair of the platform committee at the 1960 Republican National Convention. He was considered one of the more liberal Republicans.

Percy's first foray into electoral politics was a run for governor of Illinois in 1964, which Percy 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.

Member of U.S. Senate

In 1966, Percy's second attempt, a run for senator from Illinois, succeeded when he upset incumbent Democratic senator Paul Douglas (a former professor of Percy's at the University of Chicago) with 56% of the vote. During that campaign, Percy's daughter Valerie was murdered at the family home in mysterious circumstances, apparently by an intruder, and campaigning was suspended for two weeks. Valerie Percy's murder has never been solved, despite a long investigation.[1] The incident caused CBS to postpone, and eventually cancel, an airing of the Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho.

In 1967 Senator Percy introduced a bill which would 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 the senator was asked why he selected housing as the object of his first major legislative proposal, he said the following, "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 undefeatable.[2] Percy was considered so strong that the Democratic party was unable to entice any serious candidates to challenge Percy.[3] Emerging from the Democratic primary was the truly dark horse candidate, Alex Seith, who had never before sought elected office. The highlight of Seith's political experience was serving on the Cook County Zoning Board of Appeals for twelve years, nine of those years as chairman. However, 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 only days before the polling, and with tear-filled eyes pleaded with Illinoisians 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."[4] He won re-election by a 54% to 46% margin.

Percy served in the Senate until 1984, when he was narrowly defeated for re-election by the liberal Congressman Paul Simon.

While in the Senate, Percy was active in the areas of business and international affairs. He was in the moderate wing of the Republican Party, and explored the possibility of running for President in 1968 and 1976, but dropped out both times, supporting the unsuccessful attempt of Nelson Rockefeller to gain the Republican nomination in 1968, and the successful attempt of President Gerald Ford to obtain the Republican nomination in 1976. During the early 1970s he clashed with President Richard Nixon and criticized the U.S. conduct of the war in Vietnam.

Perhaps Percy's most important act, and his longest-lasting legacy, was his elimination of the corrupt, or at least corrupting, practice of nominating federal judges from the Chicago political machine. Instead, he implemented a system of consultation with and advice from several groups. One of his nominees, John Paul Stevens, went on to serve on the United States Supreme Court. See here [5] a contemporary news article describing Percy's system, novel at the time.


Percy's daughter Sharon -- twin sister of Valerie—is the wife of Democratic United States Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia.

In addition to the twins, Charles Percy has three other children: Roger (born 1947), Gail (born 1953), and Mark (born 1955). Sharon, Valerie, and Roger were born to Percy's first wife (Jeanne), and Gail and Mark were born to his second wife (Loraine).

Percy is a Christian Scientist.


  1. ^ Goudie, Chuck (September 14, 2006). "Percy Killing: The Forty Year File 9/15/06". abc7chicago. Retrieved 2009-07-21.  
  2. ^ "Percy's Problem". TIME. 1978-11-06.,9171,948264,00.html?promoid=googlep. Retrieved 2009-07-21.  
  3. ^ The slatemaking saga of Democrats — without Daley - Was anybody happy? By Al Manning
  4. ^ ""Got Your Message" - TIME". 1978-11-20.,9171,948300-1,00.html. Retrieved 2009-07-21.  
  5. ^ LITTLEWOOD, TOM (April 1976). "How Sen. Percy exercises prerogative in nominating judgeship candidates". Illinois Issues. Retrieved 2009-07-21.  
  • Hess, Stephen and David S. Broder. The Republican Establishment: The Present and Future of the G.O.P. New York : Harper & Row, 1967.
United States Senate
Preceded by
Paul Douglas
United States Senator (Class 2) from Illinois
1967 – 1985
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
1981 – 1985
Succeeded by
Richard Lugar

External links



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