James Grant O’Hara – Sergeant, United States Army Member of Congress

Mar 15, 1989: James G. O’Hara – “Mr. Macomb County Democrat” and a U.S. Representative from Michigan from 1958 to 1976 –died Monday at George Washington University Medical Center in Washington. He was 63 and had lung cancer.

“He was a representative of the working people,” Macomb County Circuit Judge John Bruff said Tuesday. ” His slogan for his first campaign was ‘For Full Employment.’ ” . . . He also was one of the congressional architects of the Great Society programs, Medicaid, Medicare, the Civil Rights bills, the Environmental bills, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act.

“And for Macomb County, he saw to getting the grants, so for the sewer systems that were built in the ’60s and the ’70s, we received our proper money. The Clinton River and St. Clair Lake were cleaned up, and municipalities no longer dumped sewage into the Clinton River.”

Bruff was his campaign manager and district representative. Lieutenant Governor Martha Griffiths served in the U.S. House with O’Hara. “What I really remember him for was his ability to get along with all the other congressmen and his ability, once he got to doing something, to get it through Congress,” she said. “If he decided on an amendment to a bill, he could usually get it through the committee and get it through on the floor of Congress. He was quite effective.”

O’Hara’s 18 years in Congress ended when he quit to make a race for the U.S. Senate and lost in the primary to Donald Riegle.

O’Hara began his political career in 1958, running for Congress from the old 7th District, which included Macomb County and five counties in the Thumb. After two recounts of the ballots, he was declared the winner by five votes, becoming the first Democrat to represent the Thumb counties in Congress since 1895. During his years in Congress, his home was in Utica, but after his defeat by Riegle, he stayed in Washington, working as a lawyer and lobbyist with the law firm of Patton, Boggs & Blow.

O’Hara was born in Washington, D.C., and lived there until he was 13, when he moved to Detroit.

He was a combat paratrooper in the Pacific during World War II and earned bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Michigan. He practiced law in Detroit before going to Congress. He began his political career as an extreme liberal, but gradually became more conservative, especially after a stiff threat from an anti-busing candidate in his 1972 race. But he remained strongly pro-labor and a champion of public education programs to the end of his years in Congress.

Survivors include his wife, Susan Puskas O’Hara; sons, Ray, Thomas, Patrick, Brendan and Neal; daughters, Mary and Brigid; a sister, and a brother. The funeral mass will be at 11:30 am Friday at St. Louis Catholic Church in Alexandria, Virginia. Burial with military honors will be at 1 pm in Arlington National Cemetery. The family suggests memorial contributions to the Annual Sharing of the Green, Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church, 1050 Porter St., Detroit 48226. Funeral arrangements are by the Demaine Funeral Home, 520 S. Washington St., Alexandria 22314.

Courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives

Representative from Michigan; born in Washington, D.C., November 8, 1925; moved with his parents to Michigan, in 1939; graduated from University of Detroit High School in 1943; during the Second World War served as an enlisted man in the United States Army with Company B, Five Hundred and Eleventh Parachute Infantry Regiment, Eleventh Airborne Division, seeing action in the Pacific Theater of Operations; graduated from the University of Michigan in 1954 and from the law department of the same university in 1955; was admitted to the bar in 1955 and commenced the practice of law in Detroit and Macomb County, Mich.; delegate, Democratic National Conventions, 1960 and 1968; elected as a Democrat to the Eighty-sixth and to the eight succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1959-January 3, 1977); was not a candidate in 1976 for reelection but was an unsuccessful candidate for nomination to the United States Senate; resumed the practice of law in Washington, D.C.; member, and later chairman, Federal Minimum Wage Study Commission, 1978-1981; was a resident of Alexandria, Va., until his death in Washington, D.C., on March 13, 1989: interment in Arlington National Cemetery.

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