Lansing — To most of the state, Curtis Hertel Sr. was a former Michigan Democratic Speaker of the House who continued his family’s tradition of public service.

But to Hertel’s son, state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., he was a hero, a mentor, a best friend and fellow Tigers fan.

“He was somebody who loved his family,” Hertel said Sunday night. “His kids were always No. 1 no matter how important his job was.”

The senior Hertel died Sunday at his home in Grosse Pointe. He was 63.

Family members said he died of “natural causes.”

“As we celebrate the life of this consummate public servant, we look forward to sharing our love with the thousands of lives that were touched by this great man,” his son said in a statement earlier Sunday from the family.

Hertel comes from a well-known family of Democratic lawmakers. Two brothers also served in the state House, Senate or U.S. House.

He was first elected to the Michigan House in 1980 and served nine terms in his Detroit district until 1998. He was co-speaker from 1993-94 with Republican Paul Hillegonds in an unusual power-sharing arrangement, and sole speaker from 1997-98.

Former Republican Speaker of the House Jase Bolger said he was stunned to hear of Hertel’s death, adding: “He was certainly young.”

Bolger described Hertel as a “gentleman” and recalled meeting him in 2010 when Bolger was first elected speaker. Hertel offered Bolger guidance on working with all members of the state House of Representatives.

“He had great advice,” Bolger said. “I remember conversations about trust and how you had to be able to trust one another (in the House).”

Hillegonds said he was “deeply saddened by the loss of a good person, dedicated public servant and personal friend.”

“Our friendship was forged by legislative compromise, shared leadership as co-speakers and the blossoming of mutual trust and respect,” Hillegonds said in a statement. “As he did for his wonderful family and many others, Curtis changed my life for the better. God bless you, Mr. Speaker.”

Others also lauded Hertel’s public service.

“Speaker Curtis Hertel Sr. was the true definition of a public servant,” said Daniel J. Loepp, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and former chief of staff to Hertel. “He helped lead Michigan through some of the toughest times with class and dignity, often finding ways to bring conflicting parties together for the common good.

“He was truly a great legislator and a wonderful leader and he made everyone he came into contact with a better person for knowing him. I have been fortunate to call him a friend for many years.”

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement that "Hertel was a good man who served the State of Michigan with distinction."

After leaving the Statehouse, Hertel served as executive director of the Detroit-Wayne County Port Authority and deputy director in the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth under former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm. The appointment in 2010 prompted the acting director of the department to say Hertel brought “a wealth of experience” to the job.

Hertel said at the time “it was time for a new challenge” after leaving the port authority. He had been a lobbyist after serving as House speaker before joining the authority.

A nephew, John J. “Jay” Hertel, once acknowledged there were a lot of Hertels in public service and summed up the motivation when he ran for the 32nd House District that covered Macomb and St. Clair counties.

“I know it looks like a name game,” Jay Hertel said in 2002, “but what am I supposed to do? I’m proud of the accomplishments of my dad and my uncles. There’s a family tradition of public service that dates back to my grandfather, John, who came home after World War II, became a teacher and was involved in several civic organizations.”

Funeral arrangements are pending. In addition to Curtis Jr., Curtis Hertel Sr. is survived by his wife of 42 years, Vickie; three other children; and five grandchildren.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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