A short 11 months ago, Western New York lost one of its favorite sons in Tim Russert. This morning, many of us woke up to find out about the passing of one of our favorite adopted sons.
John French Kemp, Jr., better known to the world as Jack Kemp, passed away on Saturday, May 2nd at the age of 73 at his home in Bethesda, MD. Kemp was diagnosed with cancer in January 2009, and was undergoing additional tests but gave no further details. He was a nine-term congressman from Western New York, HUD secretary under George H.W. Bush, and the vice-presidential candidate for Bob Dole’s presidential run in 1996. Here in Buffalo, he was first known as a champion quarterback for the Buffalo Bills in their AFL days.
Kemp was born in Los Angeles, but became a Buffalonian. Drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 17th round of the 1957 NFL Entry Draft, he failed to make the team, instead playing for numerous NFL and CFL teams. The Los Angeles Chargers of the AFL picked him up for their inaugural season in 1960; Bills coach Lou Saban discovered a waivers rule which allowed him to claim Kemp in 1962 – a move many believe changed the face of football in Buffalo.
The Bills won the AFL championship behind Kemp’s arm in 1964 and 1965, with Kemp being named MVP in 1965. He co-founded the AFL Players Association in 1964, and was a five-term president of the organization. This was seen as a look into the future of Jack Kemp, and when he retired from football in 1969, he started in on a stellar political career, winning nine terms to the US Congress representing a blue-collar community that had embraced him as one of their own.
Kemp unsuccessfully pursued the Republican nomination for president in 1988, and received the GOP vice-presidential nomination in 1996. During that campaign, Kemp and Bob Dole ended on of their trips in Buffalo. If Kemp hadn’t endeared himself to the Western New York populace in the 30 years prior to that, the following statement could have helped: “Buffalo, NY is my hometown. Don’t let anybody tell you it’s not. And I want you to know I learned every lesson in politics and football from being a congressman and a quarterback for the Buffalo Bills.” Just what we like to hear in Buffalo.
Jack Kemp is survived by his wife Joanne, two sons (both of whom played professional football), two daughters, and 17 grandchildren (10 of whom play football).
Sources: “Jack Kemp, one-time VP candidate, dies,” msnbc.com
Robert J. McCarthy, “Jack Kemp, Bills icon, congressman, dies,” The Buffalo News