Mel Price

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CHARLES MELVIN PRICE
U. S. CONGRESSMAN

 

Mel Price was born in East St. Louis on New Years Day, 1905, and died in 1988 at the age of 83. He attended St. Louis University High School and St. Louis University. He was sports editor from 1925-27 and newspaper correspondent for the East St. Louis Journal from 1927-3 3; member of the St. Clair County Board of Supervisors 1929-31; secretary to Congressman Edwin Schaefer 1933-43; enlisted in the United States Army in October 1943 and served in the Quartermaster Corps at Camp Lee, VA, until elected to Congress in 1944. While working as a correspondent for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, he broke the story that Harry Truman was going to be nominated for vice-president. He was re-elected to 21 succeeding Congresses. At the time of his death in Washington, D. C., his residence was in Belleville, Illinois.

His more than 50 years of government service represented almost one-quarter of the history of our nation. As the second ranking member of Congress in seniority, Mel served through the terms of nine Presidents. The Democratic caucus put him in charge of the important House Armed Services Committee where he strongly supported a strong U. S. defense stance. The pro-military American Security Council gave Price an 80 per cent favorable rating. "In defense, you have to be prepared for what the other fellow might do," he stressed. He justified his stance by saying: "I would rather have that weapon or service and not need it as to need it and not have it." His strong support of President Reagan's defense buildup with the MX missile, nuclear powered aircraft carriers, and the B-1 bomber, led liberal Democrats to oust him from his chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee.

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It was ironic that the strong defense policies that he and Reagan supported led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the destruction of the Berlin Wall shortly after his death. He also worked closely with Admiral Hyman Rickover to expand and modernize the Navy with nuclear powered ships.

He never lost his love for sports and remained steadfast friends with Bob Burnes, Harry Mitauer and Bill Fairbairn, all of the Globe's sports staff. He was also close to the wrestling promoter, Sam Muchnik, and Leo Ward, the traveling secretary of the baseball Cardinals. Going to a baseball game once saved his life. He was covering St. Louis city hall as a reporter and Mayor William Becker asked him to go along for a ride in an airplane glider. He declined because he had plans to attend a Cardinal baseball game. He was at the game when they announced over the public address system that a wing had come off the glider and everyone aboard was killed.

Price's first election was a squeaker. After that he began winning by respectable margins, then large margins and finally crushing margins. When he was re-elected for the sixteenth time against Republican Scott Randolph. the spread was 77,728 to 18,802 votes. His only other close election was in 1986 when he was contested by three other Democrats in the primary and eked out a 943 vote victory over Republican challenger, Robert Gaffner of Greenville. One of the reasons he was so popular is that he gained a wide reputation for servicing his constituents back home in Madison and St. Clair Counties by going home to his 21st/23rd district at least once a month. Up to two weeks before his death, he was still signing every letter that came to his office and putting little P. S.'s on them to let the recipient know that he had read their letter, acknowledged it, and had sent back the reply.

Price was a strong supporter of nuclear energy, an unpopular stance among many Democrats. He believed it was important to build more nuclear power plants to reduce our dependency on foreign oil. When asked about the safety of such facilities. he noted that "no one died at Three Mile Island," and that nuclear scientists strongly disagreed with the anti-nuclear position of Ralph Nader. "Each new nuclear power plant will save 12 million barrels of oil a year," he stated. He frequently cited the safety records of nuclear power plants in France and of those aboard our nuclear powered submarines. He justified our huge sale of arms to questionable countries by reminding reporters that the arms sales wouldn't stop if we placed an embargo on sales because so many other countries (especially Russia, France and Italy) would continue to profit from the sales, no matter what we did. In 1957 Mel sponsored the Price-Anderson Act which gave a boost to the civilian nuclear power industry. He became chairman of the Armed Services Committee in 1975, a post he held for ten years. Shortly after his death. it was announced that a new Trident ballistic missile sub would be named the U. S. S. Melvin Price. The new Alton Locks and Dam 26 and the Army Support Center in Granite City were also named in his honor.

The thing that Mel liked best about being a Congressman was serving the people. Mel Price was one of the most respected members of the House of Representatives; he was evenhanded and well-liked by his colleagues. When the House of Representatives came under fire concerning the question of ethics, they turned to Mel Price to chair the committee which stood in judgment of their behavior.

Mel was married to Geraldine Freelin of Moberly, MO. They lived in a two-story white frame house at 426 North 8th Street, across from Robins Funeral Home. Their son, Bill Price, a Belleville Physician, is currently running as a Republican in an effort to take his father's congressional seat away from incumbent, Jerry Costello. Also an East St. Louis native, Costello won a special election in August of 1988 to earn the right to represent Mel's former district.

Mel established personal relationships with some of the most famous people in history - Winston Churchill, Charles DeGaulle, Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt, yet he never forgot where he came from or the people he represented. Mel Price had a great love of country, great love of family and he made our governmental institutions a better place because of his service. He was one of the greatest citizens ever produced by the city of East St. Louis. Mel could have been buried at Arlington Cemetery but he had always said that he wanted to buried at Mt. Carmel Cemetery in his native land, southern Illinois. The final tribute to Mel at his funeral was from the Military Air Lift Command of Scott Air Force Base. Three planes flew single-file over the gravesite in tribute to the man who had fought most of his career for the military base in his district. Through Price's influence, Scott became one of the largest military installations in the country.

A special section of the library of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville was designated as the repository for Mel Price's papers and documents. With the death of Mel Price came the passing of a legend in Illinois politics. The soft-spoken, conscientious manner in which he served his country, and represented the voters will be most impossible to replicate.

 

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