KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Former Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton, who built a reputation as a military expert and social conservative during 34 years representing western and central Missouri in the U.S. House, died Monday in Virginia. He was 81.
Skelton died at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va., surrounded by his wife, his sons and their families as well as longtime colleague Russell Orban, who confirmed the death. The cause was not immediately released, but Orban said Skelton entered the hospital a week earlier with a bad cough.
A former prosecutor in his native Lexington, Mo., Skelton joined the national Kansas City-based law firm of Husch Blackwell following his 2010 defeat in Missouri's 4th Congressional District by Republican Vicky Hartzler, a state lawmaker who had strong tea party backing.
Skelton worked for the firm in both Kansas City and Washington, D.C., and maintained homes in Lexington and the Washington suburb of McLean, Va.
Skelton won the first of 17 congressional terms in 1976 and was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee at the time of his loss to Hartzler.
An astute military historian, Skelton helped build up Missouri's two military installations. As Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster was losing its cache of long-range nuclear missiles, Skelton secured its future in the late 1980s by getting the Defense Department to place the new B-2 bomber there.
After redistricting made Skelton the representative for Missouri's Fort Leonard Wood in 1983, the number of troops undergoing training there more than quadrupled and the post's mission expanded from the Army to all branches of military service.
Orban, who served 16 years on Skelton's congressional staff and recently joined him practicing law in Husch Blackwell's Washington office, said the former lawmaker had been especially pleased by presidential appointments to the American Battle Monuments Commission, which is in charge of U.S. military resting places overseas, and the World War I Centennial Commission, which is planning next year's activities marking the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.