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Ed Derwinski
1st United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs
In office
March 15, 1989 – September 26, 1992
PresidentGeorge H. W. Bush
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byJesse Brown
Administrator of Veterans Affairs
In office
January 21, 1989 – March 15, 1989
PresidentGeorge H. W. Bush
Preceded byThomas Turnage
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Undersecretary of State for International Security Affairs
In office
March 24, 1987 – January 21, 1989
PresidentRonald Reagan
Preceded byWilliam Schneider
Succeeded byReginald Bartholomew
Counselor of the United States Department of State
In office
March 23, 1983 – March 24, 1987
PresidentRonald Reagan
Preceded byJames Buckley
Succeeded byMax Kampelman
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 4th district
In office
January 3, 1959 – January 3, 1983
Preceded byWilliam McVey
Succeeded byGeorge O'Brien
Personal details
Edward Joseph Derwinski

(1926-09-15)September 15, 1926
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedJanuary 15, 2012(2012-01-15) (aged 85)
Oak Brook, Illinois, U.S.
Resting placeArlington National Cemetery
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Patricia van der Giessen
Bonnie Hickey
EducationLoyola University, Chicago (BS)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1944–1946
Battles/warsWorld War II

Edward Joseph Derwinski (September 15, 1926 – January 15, 2012) was an American politician who served as the first Cabinet-level United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs, serving under President George H. W. Bush from March 15, 1989 to September 26, 1992. He previously served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1959 to 1983, representing south and southwest suburbs of Chicago.

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Early life

He was born in Chicago, Illinois, on September 15, 1926, to Sophia Zmijewski and Casimir Ignatius Derwinski, who died in 1947. Derwinski attended Loyola University of Chicago. Derwinski served in the United States Army in the Pacific Theater during World War II and in the postwar U.S. occupation of Japan. He graduated from Loyola University Chicago in 1951. He was a celebrated member of Alpha Delta Gamma National Fraternity.

Legislative career

In 1957, he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, where he served one term before winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1958. He served 12 terms as a Republican representative from the 4th District of Illinois, a suburban region south and west of Chicago, eventually becoming ranking member of the House Foreign Relations Committee. He also served as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly 1971-1972 and as chairman of the U.S. delegation to the Interparliamentary Union from 1970–1972 and 1978-1980.

Executive career

A Democratic redistricting plan after the 1980 Census carved up the 4th District, with only about 15% of its territory being retained and added to various territory from other districts; Derwinski and fellow Republican congressman George M. O'Brien were placed in the same district, and O'Brien won the 1982 primary on the strength of having more of his previous district included in the new configuration. After Derwinski's loss, President Ronald Reagan appointed him Counselor to the State Department. In 1987, Reagan appointed him Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology, where he served until the end of Reagan's term, shortly after which he was appointed Administrator of Veterans Affairs, in charge of the Veterans Administration, which was elevated to cabinet-level status as the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1989, making Derwinski the first Secretary of Veterans Affairs.[1]


A Polish American, Derwinski was noted for his efforts on behalf of Eastern Europe throughout his career. Notably, he aided in the rehabilitation of the Serbian Royalist general Draža Mihailović. Mihailović had received the Legion of Merit for his resistance efforts against the Axis—but this information was marked "secret" at the behest of the State Department so as not to harm relations with Marshal Tito, the current ruler of Yugoslavia in 1967. Tito was Mihailović's rival in World War II, and after Tito's forces emerged triumphant, Mihailović was accused of collaboration with the Nazis and executed. At the urging of airmen involved in Operation Halyard who had been saved by Mihailović's forces and had heard rumors of the award to him, Derwinski insisted that the State Department make the text of President Truman's citation public, confirming that Mihailović had not collaborated.[2] Derwinski served as head of "Ethnic Americans for Dole/Kemp" during the 1996 presidential election.


Derwinski resided in Glen Ellyn, Illinois with his wife, the former Bonita Hickey, known as Bonnie. He had two adult children, Maureen and Michael, from his first marriage to Patricia Derwinski.

On January 15, 2012, Derwinski died at a nursing home from Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare form of skin cancer. He was 85 years old.[3] Derwinski was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

On learning of his death, former United States Senator Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL) described Derwinski as "a giant in Illinois politics ... [H]e had incredible connections in all the different ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago, he was really loved by everybody on both sides".


  1. ^ "Edward J. Derwinski, first secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, dies". The Washington Post. January 18, 2012.
  2. ^ Freeman, Gregory A. (September 2007). The Forgotten 500. London: Penguin Books. p. 271. ISBN 978-0-451-22212-1.
  3. ^ "Edward J. Derwinski, first secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, dies". The Washington Post. January 18, 2012.

External links

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 4th congressional district

Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Counselor of the United States Department of State
Succeeded by
Preceded by Undersecretary of State for International Security Affairs
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Thomas Turnage
Administrator of Veterans Affairs
Position abolished
New office United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Succeeded by
This page was last edited on 8 October 2023, at 02:53
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