Editorial: Harris Fawell's compelling example of independent, principled leadership

  • Harris Fawell meets with friends and former colleagues at a political event in Wheaton in 2005.

    Harris Fawell meets with friends and former colleagues at a political event in Wheaton in 2005. Daily Herald File Photo

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted11/16/2021 1:00 AM

In a reflection on the life of his late father, Richard Harris Fawell offered a vision of former Congressman Harris Fawell's parenting style that could also be a commentary on leadership in government -- and perhaps any endeavor.

"He lived his life by example," Richard Harris Fawell said. "He never told us to do anything. He showed us. And that, to me, was his greatest legacy."


Harris Fawell, of Naperville, died last week at the age of 92. His passing bears special notice not just for the seven terms he served in Congress and 14 years he served in the Illinois Senate, but also and more importantly for the way he served.

Fawell, who left Congress in 1999, is remembered as a lawmaker who largely eschewed the trappings of Washington's social scene and focused instead on the work.

Staff and family members who spoke to our Steve Zalusky about him, speak of a man of strong moral and ethical standards, a congressman who actually tried to read every important bill he voted on and conducted pro-and-con discussions with his staff before voting.

As a fiscal conservative, he was conscientious about how government money was spent, but at the same time, he had sincere concerns about social issues.

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He worked in Congress with a Minnesota Democrat to form a "Porkbusters Coalition," to identify and eliminate wasteful spending.

In the Illinois Senate, he was one of only two Republicans who supported Fair Housing legislation in the 1960s.

Long before health care was a familiar topic in state or national politics, he bucked the insurance industry to sponsor legislation that would enable small employers to form pools and make offering insurance for their employees more affordable.

He was willing in 1993 to challenge then-Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole on 17 projects the former presidential candidate from Kansas wanted in his home district.

In 2008, he endorsed Barack Obama for president.

He was, in short, an independent thinker. He both built a personal reputation in state and national politics and extended influences his family continued to exert in local government in DuPage County.


"He was really taken with the notion of servant leadership," said another son, John Fawell.

It's a concept we yearn to see more of these days.

Fawell built a political career that seems far too rare in today's atmosphere of sound bites, personal causes and acrimonious divisions. Now, if only more congressmen and leaders in government would reflect more on the example he set.

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