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Kyl Viewed Life Through Lens of Camera

When it came to appreciating life’s simple beauties, no aspect was too small for the gimlet eye of former Republican Rep. John Kyl (Iowa).

The 83-year-old Kyl, the father of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), died in his sleep just two days before Christmas from complications of heart disease and diabetes.

During his decades-long career in Washington — first as a Hawkeye State Congressman and later as an assistant secretary at the Interior Department — Kyl was seldom without his Canon camera, snapping everything from the monuments at night to the ordinary scenes that make up the day-to-day Washington tableau.

While his photographs of the capital’s loftier sites still warm the walls of the Capitol Hill Club’s Grill Room — and a picture he took of the Capitol holiday tree once graced the cover of the National Republican Club’s magazine — it was the quotidian that particularly intrigued him.

“He was always a photographer … and a lot of [his subjects] were the out-of-the-way places that most people probably never realized existed. We whiz by these things as we are driving or walking, but we don’t stop to take a look,” said Sen. Kyl.

“I just came across an album as we were looking through his things — a very large album of all Washington, D.C., photos and most of them, probably 80 or 90 percent, were street scenes: street people, storefronts with a lot of graffiti on them, or just a park bench right after a snowstorm,” Kyl added.

While his father initially advised him against running for Congress, Sen. Kyl credited the lessons learned at the feet of the elder Kyl with his own political success. For example, the former public school teacher insisted his son be equipped to operate effectively in the public arena.

“He got some of my friends and me together when we were in high school … and he said, ‘You all need to learn to do public speaking, so I’ll teach you what I can here.’ “

“My father was [also] a kind of frustrated farmer. We always lived in town but he always leased land and we always had livestock. He was really proud when I showed the grand champion steer at the county fair,” the Senator recalled fondly.

The elder Kyl — who lost his first bid for Congress in 1958 but won a special election for a seat in 1959 — went on to serve five additional terms, though not consecutively.

While in Congress, Kyl devoted himself to his work on the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, which included significant contributions to the genesis of the Lewis and Clark trail project, the younger Kyl said.

“He always stressed to me his ability to work on a bipartisan basis. … He was proud that Wayne Aspinall [then Democratic chairman of the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee] would turn the gavel over to him or turn a bill over to him to manage on the floor as if it were not a partisan matter.”

After losing his 1964 re-election bid, Kyl came back to triumph in 1966, then won seats in the two succeeding Congresses and served as a deputy to then-Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-Mich.).

However, in 1972, redistricting forced him to run in a more Democratic district, and he was bested in a Member-versus-Member contest by Rep. Neal Smith (D-Iowa).

“If he was defeated, he understood,” noted Kyl. “It wasn’t the end of his life.”

Soon after, the Nixon administration tapped Kyl as assistant secretary for Congressional and legislative affairs at the Interior Department, where he served from 1973 to 1977.

In 1977, he joined the Occidental International Corporation as executive vice president, a post he held until retiring to Phoenix, Ariz., in 1985.

Shortly thereafter, he had the pleasure of seeing his son, now the junior Senator from Arizona, win a seat in the House of Representatives.

“There aren’t many father-son combinations from different states. Most of the father-son combinations are from the same state,” Kyl noted.

In addition to his Senator son, Kyl is survived by his wife Arlene, two daughters, one sister, one brother, six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

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