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Reflections On The Life Of An Independent Congressman

Paul Findley served 22 years as a congressman from Illinois in the 20th District. The area he represented covered much of the territory Abraham Lincoln served during his one term in Congress.

Findley, who died recently at age 98, was a maverick, taking positions counter to his party on a number of issues: The Vietnam War, government agriculture program support payments to big sugar, Middle East policy, and trade with China.

"He always felt that someone who's getting the short end of the stick and there was a way to help them, it is up to people to help them."

Barbara Findley Stuart, Findley’s sister and former longtime McLean County Board Member and community activist, said his involvement with the Middle East and early advocacy for the two-state solution in the Middle East began with a connection to Illinois State University.

“Across the street from me, a boy named Ed Franklin was going to ISU,” Findley-Stuart said. “When he graduated, he got a job with the oil company in Saudia Arabia. That’s the one he went to Yemen to rescue. He didn't even know where Yemen was when he got into this. He got a call from a woman who had written for his weekly newspaper who was very worried about her son. He was coming back from Africa and had stopped in Yemen. He had taken a picture and they arrested him and put him in prison.”

The U.S. had no diplomatic relations with Yemen, but Stuart said Findley went to see Henry Kissinger who gave him an unofficial letter of introduction through the Saudis.

While in Yemen, Stuart said, his relationships with leaders there formed almost immediately.

“When he got there he was well received and he met the president of Yemen,” Findley-Stuart said. “The Arabs liked him because he said what he knew and he was open,” said Stuart.

Findley also visited refugee camps in which Palestinians were living. He met then chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, something that ran directly counter to U.S. policy, which considered Arafat a terrorist. From that meeting, Stuart said Findley carried the framework of a two-state proposal back to Washington.

Even after he left office, Findley stood up against hate and discrimination. He spoke against discrimination and anti-muslim hate speech following the 9/11 attacks, said Stuart.

“He came to feel that they needed a voice," Stuart said. “There was no one in this country that was going to have anything good to say about them."

Findley came to oppose the Vietnam war. He insisted on reading aloud more than 35,000 names of the servicemen killed in the war on the floor of the House.

“The thing that impressed Congress was not so much the 37,000 names, it was the 121 pages that were occupied in the Congressional Record,” Stuart added. “The congressmen were sitting around wondering where the Congressional Record was. It usually came out on a Monday and it wasn’t there. It was a day late because it had extra pages.”

Findley was one of the primary authors of the 1973 Wars Power Act, which limits a president’s authority in waging war and requires the president to notify Congress 48 hours prior to sending troops into combat.

Stuart said she has always been fond of the fact Findley appointed Frank Mitchell the first African American page to the House of Representatives.

He advocated against an agriculture program that benefitted big Ag and not small farmers.

“I remember going to a picnic with him one time and I was amazed because he was wearing a bulletproof vest because he had threats against his life at that time by corporate farmers,” Findley-Stuart said.

Findley-Stuart recalls Findley as a music lover who loved to sing and played the trombone. He was an individual that was never hesitant to speak up for his views and was prepared for any repercussions, she said.

“He always felt that someone who’s getting the short end of the stick and there was a way to help them, it is up to people to help them.”

In 1982 Findley lost election to Dick Durbin, who would go on to serve in the U.S. Senate and become Findley's friend.


Listen to Barbara Stuart talk about her childhood with her brother Paul Findley.

Barbara Stuart wrote this poem about her brother in 2016. - Memorial


with a bad heart

my brother leaned forward intently

his thin face focused on me

ignoring the stump of his right leg.

He said

"I asked my former office manager

to speak about Islam at my memorial

and he said yes!

How about that!"

He was pleased and clearly surprised

He was sitting in his cheelchair 

in his nursing home room

planning his funeral

His recent amputation 

was of no interest

just another 

random inconvenience 

of old age

What did interest him was

planning his memorial service

"I spent years on peace for the Middle East and on recognizing

the peaceful intent

of American Muslims.

This will be

one more chance

to bring it to people's attention."

Two hours before

as he was being released

from the hospital

the nurse had asked him

"Do you want your jacket?"

His son had answered for him

"Of course

and his tie too - always."


completely dressed

and congressional

in his wheel chair

he had beamed at us

"This calls for a photograph!"

He was very happy

to look himself again

He is still a congressman

at heart

with nation and world

on his mind

still accepting the unavoidable

as he had accepted long agao

a time for learning war

on a Pacific island

eating chicken heads and feet for Chinese diplomacy

and three days ago

losing a leg

Now looking at

unavoidable, eventual death

he is turning even that

to his purpose

still working toward

universal peace and understanding.

It is good

to have such an example for rounding out a life

I doubt that I could find a better one.

People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.

Darnysha Mitchell is an Illinois State University student and reporting and social media intern at WGLT.
WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.