Charles H. Percy was the last U.S. Senator from Illinois to complete three full terms in office. He served for 18 years from 1967 to 1985. Chuck Percy was born on Sept. 17, 1919 in Pensacola, Florida but he was raised in Chicago and Winnetka. He attended schools in Illinois and graduated from New Trier High School. In 1941, he graduated from the University of Chicago. At the age of only 22, he was working for and became a director of the Bell and Howell Camera Company in Chicago. The company was then headed by Joseph McNab who was Percy's Sunday School teacher and who became Percy's business mentor.
During World War II, Percy enlised in the U.S. Navy as an apprentice seaman was was honorably discharged in 1945 as a lieutenant. He rejoined Bell and Howell and at the age of 29 early in 1949, he was voted in as president of the company after the death of his predecessor Joseph McNab.
Percy took the Bell and Howell Company public and made the company successful in the 1950s. About the same time, President Eisenhower recruited Percy to get active in both Illinois and national Republican Party activities. He served as president of the United Republican Fund of Illinois from 1955 to 1958 and was asked by Eisenhower to Chair the Platform Committee at the 1960 Republican National Convention in Chicago. Although he would often later be viewed as a moderate-to-liberal Republican in international affairs, his pro-business credentials were considerable. In fact, when Percy campaigned for governor of Illinois in 1964, he did not run as a moderate or liberal but billed himself in TV commercials as "the dynamic conservative."
In 1964, Percy won the Republican Primary Election for the GOP gubernatorial nomination over the more conservative candidacy of State Treasurer William J. Scott. Percy had campaigned almost full time for a year starting in 1963 and Scott only joined the race 11 weeks before the primary after the death of Secretary of State Charles F. Carpentier who was in the race. Notwithstanding the fact that the Scott-Percy primary was a bruising one for the Illinois Republican Party in that era, there was a good effort at uniting Republicans in the fall with Percy working with the supporters of Sen. Everett Dirksen and Sen. Barry Goldwater, the presidential nominee. Percy endorsed Goldwater but there was little doubt that Goldwater's large loss to LBJ in 1964 was likely a drag on the Percy campaign as well.
Percy lost the race for governor to incumbent Democrat Otto Kerner by less than one percent. But he never blamed Sen. Goldwater for his loss and that position helped to win him some good will among conservative Republicans. Instead of a party primary, the Illinois Republican Party opted for a less divisive state party convention to endorse candidates in 1966. Percy was the consenus choice for the nomination for U.S. Senator to run against incumbent Democrat Paul H. Douglas who was running for a fourth term.
During the fall campaign, Percy's home in Wilmette was invaded and his daughter Valerie Jean Percy was murdered in her bedroom. She was the twin sister of Sharon Percy who is now married to Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia). Percy and his wife Lorraine, both stoic Christian Scientists, were naturally still devastated from their loss. Although various convicts have talked about the murder, the case was never solved. Officially, the campaigns of both Percy and Douglas observed a suspension for two weeks to allow time for the Percys to prepare the family funeral and to grieve. In fact, Percy did not campaign any more until the election and Douglas made few appearances.
Percy defeated Douglas by a wide margin. His victory was party attributable to a large sympathy vote for the Percy's but also because Sen. Douglas was advancing in years and his age became a sub-current issue. Sen. Percy served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for many years and that became his major area of interest. He defeated Rep. Roman Pucinski in 1972 and Alex Sieth in 1978 before being defeated in a fourth-term bid (just as Douglas was) by Rep. Paul Simon in 1984.
Chuck Percy today is 87 years old. After many years living in Georgetown in Washington, DC and participating in international affairs think tank programs, last year Percy moved to an assisted living home in northwest suburban Maryland. His wife Lorraine still lives in Georgetown. The couple had three children.