Friends recall John Dingell's love for Debbie, junk food and 'Dingell-isms'

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Mourners paid their respects to John Dingell all day long Monday during a public visitation in Dearborn, as the community expressed just how much he meant to so many people.

"He respected people. That's just the way he was," said Dearborn Mayor Jack O'Reilly.

"If you had good truth and trust with him, you had a friend for life," said John Bendzick.

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Standing by the casket of her late husband, Rep. Debbie Dingell and family said goodbye to 92-year-old former Congressman John Dingell in their hometown of Dearborn with friends and strangers surrounding them.

"It's overwhelming but she's tremendously, tremendously appreciative and it's really carrying her through these last few days," said friend and family spokesperson John Orlando.

The father of four was a World War II veteran, known as a true warrior, a mentor, the Dean of the House, and Big John -- with a few other nicknames.

"They call him the junkyard dog because he was the kind of person who wasn't gonna give up easy and he was going to fight for what he believed in," O'Reilly said.

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Friends and former staffers called the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history a truly authentic and courageous man.

"If he thought it was right he was going to fight for it all the way," O'Reilly said.

"The most approachable salt of the earth sort of man you'd ever meet," said former staffer Andy LaBarre.

And that sense of humor.

"Funny isn't the word for it. Dry sense of humor, he has what we would call Dingell-isms," Orlando said. "'Don't be difficult to agree with,' 'I hear you but what are you telling me?'"

"John Dingell never had any problems speaking his mind," said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters.

LaBarre, a former staffer and current Washtenaw County Commissioner, started out as Dingell's personal assistant.

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"I have fond memories of, I wouldn't say sneaking him Hostess pies or a snowball or something, I would say I handled it with discretion. And when you have the Dean of the U.S. House tell you don't tell Deborah -- you don't," he said.

Orlando called John and Debbie's relationship a love he's never seen. Before dying of cancer, Dingell made sure his "lovely Deborah" was doing alright.

"She was the center of his life, he was the center of her life, and together' it's something magnificent," Orlando said.

"It was, I think, love at first sight," O'Reilly said.

"There was a fierceness and a tenderness at the same time. They had a partnership more than a marriage," LaBarre said.

At 92 years old, serving from 1955 to 2015, infinite lives were touched and impacted forever.

"We're all human beings. We all love this country. We all love our families. There's a lot more in common than what divides us, and John Dingell lived his life demonstrating that each and every day," Peters said.