Former GOP Congressman Bill Broomfield dead at 96

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
View Comments
Former Michigan U.S. Rep. William Broomfield, R-Birmingham

Washington — Former U.S. Rep. Bill Broomfield, a Birmingham Republican who represented parts of Oakland County for decades, has died at age 96.

Broomfield was the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee for 18 years during the Cold War through the fall of the Berlin Wall.He died Feb. 20 in Kensington, Maryland, where he lived, according to his family.

A veteran of World War II, Broomfield served in Congress for 36 years, from 1957 until his retirement in January 1993.

"He was a real workhorse, not a show horse. He believed in giving back. He wanted always to represent his constituents in the best, most honorable way. He was truly flawless in how he lived his life. You don’t take advantage and don’t do anything disrespectful to anyone," daughter Nancy Broomfield Aiken said.

"He absolutely loved helping people."

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, described Broomfield as soft-spoken with no temper — "a great guy." 

He said Broomfield served on the influential Republican Steering Committee that determined committee assignments, he said. 

"Just a peach of a guy, in the model of Jerry Ford. He and Ford were very good buddies," said Upton, who served with Broomfield from 1987 through his retirement.

"He wanted to get things done. He had a lot of friends on the other side. For his entire career, he was in the minority. Even when he left, he thought the Republicans would never get into the majority."

Broomfield helped lead the powerful Foreign Affairs Committee starting in 1975, pressing the overseas agenda of both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

"Like many of the greatest generation, he was a fiscal conservative and believed in the principle that democracy equaled freedom," his family said.

"He was unwavering in his support of Israel, South Korea and Greece. Despite his focus on world affairs, he felt his most important career vote was for the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

Former U.S. Rep. William Broomfield, shown file photo date unknown, died last week outside Washington at age 96. The Michigan Republican served in the House from 1957 to 1993.

President Lyndon Johnson appointed Broomfield to the United Nations General Assembly in 1967, and he was a delegate to the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) with the former Soviet Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Aiken said. 

In 1974, he traveled to China as part of a delegation to meet with communist officials after the United States restored diplomatic relations with China.

Aiken said it was funny her father was appointed to the Foreign Affairs Committee because he was a homebody and didn't often travel until joining the panel. 

"His love was always at his hometown in Michigan," she said. 

Before Foreign Affairs, he served two terms on the public works panel and "hated it," Aiken said. 

"All pork. Everyone trying to get money and building roads to nowhere. That wasn’t his thing. When the opportunity to be on Foreign Affairs came up, he jumped on it," she said. 

Washington D.C. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Clement Zablocki (left) and Rep. William S. Broomfield (right) Mich., as they participated in asking questions on the Israeli attack on Iraqi nuclear facilities in the Middle East.

He also served on the House Small Business Committee and the joint House-Senate Committee on Iran-Contra in 1987.

That panel's investigation looked into how Reagan administration officials secretly helped sell arms to Iran, despite an arms embargo, and tried to use the proceeds to finance the anti-communist contra guerrilla war against the Communist government in Nicaragua. 

Before his tenure in Washington, Broomfield had a political career in Lansing, where he served in the state House starting in 1948 and became speaker pro tempore in 1953. He was elected to the state Senate in 1955.

Upon his retirement from Congress, The Detroit News called Broomfield one of the "most decent, considerate men who had ever served in Congress" who came from the old school of politics where members treated one another with civility. 

"Despite his longevity, he remains somewhat of an 'aw shucks' congressman. He still seems awed by the fact that a one-time insurance man can end up being on a first-name basis with presidents and kings," The News wrote of Broomfield in 1992. 

"Throughout his career, he has kept scrapbooks, carefully squirreling away mementos of his attendance at White House state dinners, his many visits to foreign countries and correspondence with foreign leaders."

During congressional recesses, he would often arrive in the office at 7 a.m. to make sure constituent mail was answered, The News reported.

"He responded to people right away, which is why I think he was elected so often and with such a high percentage. He really responded to people’s needs," Aiken said.

Some staffers stayed with him all 36 years, she said. Republican former U.S. Rep. Dave Trott of Birmingham, who retired last year, was his one-time intern, Aiken said. 

William S. Broomfield was born in Royal Oak and graduated from Michigan State College (now MSU) and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. He started his career in the real estate and property management business. 

The Royal Oak Post Office was renamed for him in 2001 as the result of a bill introduced by members of the Michigan House delegation.

The Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm established the Broomfield Center for Leadership in his honor. His ancestors were among the original settlers of Stoney Creek Village, where the museum is located, manager Patrick McKay said.

Memorial services will be held in Bloomfield Hills and in Washington. Broomfield is survived by two daughters, Aiken and Barbara Shaffer and four grandchildren. His wife of 62 years, Jane Broomfield, died in 2013.

In lieu of flowers, the family is suggesting donations to the Broomfield Leadership Center at the Rochester Hills Museum at 1005 Van Hoosen Road Rochester Hills, MI 48306.

View Comments