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Florida representative Dante Bruno Fascell was born in Bridgehampton, Long Island, Suffolk County, New York, on March 9, 1917. He moved with his parents to Miami, Florida, in 1925 at the age of eight. After graduating from high school in Coral Gables during the Great Depression, he attended the University of Miami on a full scholarship. He earned a degree from the School of Law in 1938 and began practicing law in Miami.
A year later he joined the Florida National Guard and served during World War II in the African Italian campaigns. He earned three bronze battle stars and was honorably discharged from active duty in 1946 with the rank of captain. His military experience led him to seek a career in public service because, as he later explained, "If Americans are going to be sent to war, I want to know why and be part of the process that decides whether they should go."
Fascell served in the Florida Legislature from 1951 to 1954, when he was elected to the 84th U.S. Congress, representing Dade and Monroe Counties. He served an extraordinary 19 consecutive terms spanning the administrations of eight U.S. presidents, from Dwight D. Eisenhower through George Bush, until his retirement in January of 1993.
Fascell's career was distinguished by an unwavering commitment to bipartisanship in foreign policy, civil rights, environmental protection, and openness in government.
He served on the Foreign Affairs Committee for 36 years—and as its chairman from 1984 to 1993. In that powerful position, he helped ensure Americans' national security and leadership in the global economy. He led the effort to continue aid toward Israel. He played a key role in placing and maintaining the trade embargo on Cuba. He was instrumental in designing the anti-boycott bill that prohibited discrimination in foreign commerce. He wrote legislation to establish the Inter-American Foundation, which enabled foreign aid to be redesigned to benefit the poorest of people in developing countries. He wrote anti-terrorism legislation and led the effort to change U.S. policy on biological and chemical weaponry. He supported a nuclear freeze and the reduction of nuclear proliferation. He authored the War Powers Act, which requires the president to consult with Congress on actions leading to war. He led the effort to reorganize and maintain Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. He became the first chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors compliance with the Helsinki Accords.
In other landmark legislation, Fascell introduced the "Government in the Sunshine Act," which required that government agency meetings be open to the public. He also created legislation to establish the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Fascell was a lifelong friend to the University of Miami in many important ways, serving on its Board of Trustees, the Visiting Committee of the School of Law, and the Law School's Building Committee. He was awarded an honorary doctor of law degree from the University in 1988. In 1993, he donated his congressional papers to the Otto G. Richter Library.
Fascell was instrumental in obtaining federal support for vital community assets, including Everglades National Park, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Biscayne National park, Fort Jefferson National Park, and the Florida Keys' bridges. During his last year in office, Fascell secured federal funding for recovery efforts following Hurricane Andrew. Among the many places bearing his name in tribute to his contributions is the port of Miami-Dade, the visitor center at Biscayne National Park, one of the bridges linking the Florida Keys, and a Miami elementary school.
Upon his retirement from Congress, Fascell entered the private practice of law and continued to serve the public through his many community affiliations.
In October of 1998, he became one of only 360 Americans to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor that can be bestowed. The citation noted that he was a "man of reason and conscience" who was "courageous in war and public service."