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Former Sen. Charles Percy dies at 91

CHICAGO -- Former Sen. Charles H. Percy of Illinois, a former Foreign Relations Committee chairman whose moderate Republican views put him at odds with party conservatives, died Saturday in Washington.

He was 91.

Percy's daughter, Sharon Rockefeller, announced in March 2009 that he had Alzheimer's disease. His death was announced by the office of his son-in-law, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).

Elected to the first of his three Senate terms in 1966, Percy was mentioned as a possible presidential candidate. He was helped by handsome looks, a rich baritone voice and the relaxed self-confidence of the successful business executive he once was.

But the silver-haired senator came to power when moderate Republicans were becoming unfashionable on Capitol Hill. He ended up backing incumbent President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976 rather than go for it himself.

After that his chances seemed to fade. He won one more term in 1978 but was narrowly defeated for re-election in 1984 by Democratic Rep. Paul Simon. Percy remained in Washington, where he opened a consulting business.

Sen. Rockefeller praised Percy's evenhanded political stances in a statement Saturday. "His insistence on a balanced perspective in his public life, (calling himself "fervently moderate"), helped us understand it is both possible and preferable to live in a world without partisanship," Rockefeller said.

Percy ran for governor in 1964 but lost to Democratic incumbent Otto Kerner. Two years later, he unseated Democratic Sen. Paul Douglas.

A tragedy occurred in mid-campaign. One of Percy's 21-year-old twin daughters, Valerie, was bludgeoned and stabbed to death in the family's lakefront home in suburban Kenilworth. No one has ever been charged in the case.

The surviving twin, Sharon Rockefeller, is president and chief executive of WETA, the public broadcasting station in Washington.

Percy served in the Navy for three years in World War II.

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