Opinion: Jack Kemp, all-star quarterback, politician, father, dead of cancer, 73


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(UPDATE: An update on the Kemp memorial service has been added below.)

Jack Kemp, the all-star college and pro quarterback who went on to serve nine House terms, as secretary of Housing and Urban Development and as Robert Dole’s VP running mate on the 1996 Republican presidential ticket, died this evening.

Kemp also ran his own unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1988 against Ronald Reagan‘s vice president, George H.W. Bush, who would go on to appoint Kemp as his HUD secretary.

The cause of death was cancer. He was 73 years old and had allowed his office to release the news of his terminal illness only in early January. But there were no details at the time of treatment or what type, only word that he would continue his charitable activities.


(UPDATE: Tonight a former aide revealed that Kemp had cancer in the hip that was believed to be a secondary infection. The origin of the cancer was unknown, which made targeted treatments difficult. Kemp did undergo extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments at Sloan-Kettering that ended only recently.)

Moments ago, the Kemp family released a statement:

Jack Kemp passed peacefully into the presence of the Lord shortly after 6 o’clock this evening, surrounded by the love of his family and pastor, and believing with Isaiah, “My strength and my courage is the Lord.”

During the treatment of his cancer, Jack expressed his gratitude for the thoughts and prayers of so many friends, a gratitude which the Kemp family shares.

Funeral details were incomplete tonight and expected to be released Sunday.

Kemp’s condition had been declining rapidly since the announcement and friends knew the end was near for the devoted father and politician. He was famed for predictably breaking off Friday business meetings to fly overnight to watch his two boys, Jeff and Jimmy, also quarterbacks, play college or pro football on the weekends.

‘So sad,’ said Karl Rove, longtime Republican strategist, in a cellphone text message.

The troubled GOP could have used the friendly, empathetic and well-spoken southern Californian in its national rebuilding now. Kemp was known as a bleeding heart conservative for his interest in social issues and bettering the lives of average citizens. And he was well-liked by teammates, both the athletic and political kind.

A West Los Angeles native and graduate of celebrity-strewn Fairfax High School, until last year Kemp was probably the most famous politician to attend Occidental College. No longer.

Now, Barack Obama is. The president is four inches taller than Kemp, but did not play quarterback, safety, punter and place kicker on the school’s football team.


Kemp’s 13-year football career involved the National Football League, the Canadian Football League and the defunct American Football League, where Kemp was an all-star for seven of the league’s 10 years and played in five of its championship games.

Our blogging buddy, the ever-alert Larry Harnisch over on The Daily Mirror, has quickly come up with an op-ed item here written 16 months by Kemp for The Times on bankruptcy laws and homeownership. It’s so prescient it could have been written today.

(UPDATE: The Kemp family has announced details of the memorial service at Washington’s National Cathedral on Friday, May 8 at 2 p.m. ‘The memorial service is open to family, friends, former colleagues, and all those who would like to attend. Seating for the service begins at 1 pm, and attendees should plan on arriving as close to 1 pm as possible.

(The service is closed to media; however, media organizations are allowed outside, near the west end entrance to the Cathedral for arrivals and departures. Since all Cathedral schools are in session, no surface parking will be available. Media are asked to drop off at Wisconsin Avenue and South Road.)

Now, check out the old Kemp trading card from his Buffalo Bills playing days.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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