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OBITUARIES / Lionel Van Deerlin, 1914 - 2008

Former congressman decried today's partisanship

May 18, 2008|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

Former San Diego congressman and longtime journalist Lionel Van Deerlin, for many years a liberal voice in a region dominated by conservatives, died Saturday at his San Diego home, several weeks after suffering a heart attack. He was 93.

A Democrat, Van Deerlin represented the southern part of San Diego County from 1962 until he was defeated amid the 1980 Reagan landslide by a young lawyer and Vietnam veteran named Duncan Hunter.

Born July 25, 1914, in Los Angeles, Van Deerlin was a 1937 graduate of USC, where he was editor of the Daily Trojan.

He worked on newspapers in San Diego, Minneapolis and Baltimore and served in the Army during World War II as a staff member of the Stars and Stripes newspaper.

He was city editor of the now-defunct San Diego Journal, then news director for several radio and television stations before being elected to Congress in 1962 on his third try.

After his defeat in 1980, he began writing a political column for the San Diego Tribune and then the Union-Tribune.

Even as his health declined after a heart attack in March, he continued to write a weekly column.

His last was published Thursday.

His writing was clean and crisp, often with a biting sense of humor and a keen sense of history.

He often decried the bitter partisanship of modern Washington.

"Twenty-five years ago in Congress you not only trusted the opposing party, you enjoyed their company," he said. "Today, they hardly speak."

He was a professor emeritus of communications at San Diego State, where there is an endowed chair in his name.

Survivors include daughters Susie of Julian, Victoria of Encinitas and Elizabeth of Hurlock, Md.; sons Jeff and John, both of San Diego; and four grandchildren. Van Deerlin's wife of 67 years, Mary Jo, died last year.

A memorial service is being arranged at St. Joseph's Cathedral in San Diego, with his son John, a Catholic priest, to officiate.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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