KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Former Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton, a champion of the military who served 17 terms in the U.S. House before losing a re-election bid in 2010, has died. He was 81.
Skelton died Monday at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va., surrounded by family and friends, including longtime colleague Russell Orban.
The cause was not immediately released, but Orban says Skelton entered the hospital a week earlier with a cough. Oban confirmed Skelton's death to The Associated Press.
Condolences started pouring in within minutes of the announcement.
Former state Senate President Pro Tem Jim Mathewson said in a phone interview Monday he and Skelton had been close since their days together in Jefferson City.
"Without any question, Ike represented the people the best of anyone that I have ever known," he said.
The Lexington, Mo., native was a Democrat and former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Missouri Democratic Party chairman Roy Temple told reporters Skelton's military expertise and work had been critical to the state's armed services community.
"He was not only a Missouri legend, he was an American treasure," he said. "[He was] regarded extraordinarily highly by his colleagues across the country and viewed as the leading expert and champion of all things military, so it's a loss for Missouri but also a loss for the nation."
Skelton lost to Republican Vicky Hartzler in 2010 in western Missouri's 4th Congressional District. He then joined the law firm of Kansas City-based Husch Blackwell, working in its offices in Kansas City and Washington.
"The conversations we've had, his wise counsel and certainly our shared commitment for our men and women in uniform," she said. "It's keeping close to our men and women in uniform and visiting them directly and hearing from them their needs and letting them know how much we appreciate them."
Current 3rd District Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer told reporters he was once one of Skelton's constituents before becoming a colleague on Capitol Hill.
"He was a statesman," Luetkemeyer said. "He certainly had the best interests of the country at heart - in his deliberations or in how he went about his business."
Politicians across the board issued statements Monday night, praising Skelton's work and impact on the state.
"He represented the very best of Missouri," wrote Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill.
Her Republican counterpart, Sen. Roy Blunt, agreed.
"No member of the Congress was more dedicated to America's defense and those who defend us than Ike Skelton," he said in a statement.
"Ike Skelton inspired us all with his quiet dignity," Governor Jay Nixon added.
Services had not been set for the former Congressman Monday night.