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U.S. Congressman and alumnus John Edward Porter dies at 87

Working for decades as an advocate for STEM research, Porter helped secure support for ventures that helped change and even define Northwestern
A native Evanstonian, John Edward Porter graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern in 1957. Representing the North Shore, northwest suburbs and eastern Lake County of Illinois, Porter served in Congress from 1980-2000.

John Edward Porter, former U.S. Representative for Illinois’ 10th Congressional District and a Northwestern University alumnus, passed away on June 3, 2022. He was 87.

Representing the North Shore, northwest suburbs and eastern Lake County of Illinois, Porter served in Congress from 1980-2000, previously serving in the Illinois General Assembly from 1973-1979. He was a member of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee and served as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. The Committee’s jurisdiction covers all of the education, labor as well as the health programs of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other health-related federal agencies.

Under his leadership, the educational and health-related programs of federal agencies such as the NIH flourished. He founded and co-chaired the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, a voluntary association of more than 250 members of Congress working to identify, monitor and end human rights violations worldwide. He also co-authored landmark legislation, creating Radio Free Asia, and he served as chairman of the Global Legislators Organized for a Balanced Environment, known as GLOBE USA.

Upon his retirement from Congress, Porter became a partner at Hogan Hartson, now Hogan Lovells, an international law firm where he also represented Northwestern in Washington, D.C., for several years.

During his tenure, he secured more than $45 million in projects for Northwestern, including facilities funding for the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center on the Chicago campus and the Pancoe-NSUHS Life Sciences Pavilion in Evanston. He also secured significant funding to help launch nanotechnology initiatives, such as the nanoscale organic spintronics program and research instrumentation for the Institute for Bioengineering and Nanoscience in Advanced Medicine, now the Simpson Querrey Institute for BioNanotechnology.

“Representative Porter worked for decades to promote and secure support of STEM research,” said Chad Mirkin, the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology. “He was instrumental in supporting numerous University-changing and, in certain cases, -defining ventures. This included his help in establishing the headquarters for Northwestern’s International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN) and our Center for Nanofabrication and Molecular Self-assembly. He was a class act, and I personally enjoyed working with him. He will be missed.” 

John Porter secured more than $45 million in projects for Northwestern, including facilities funding for the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center on the Chicago campus and the Pancoe-NSUHS Life Sciences Pavilion in Evanston.

Porter also helped secure funding for Northwestern research related to tribology, Great Lakes restoration and the Northwestern Juvenile Project.

Porter was known for his tireless advocacy of biomedical research. The John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center on the campus of the NIH, named in his honor, was dedicated in March 2014. That same year, he was awarded the National Academy of Sciences Public Welfare Medal, the Academy’s highest honor. In 2001, a professorship of biomedical research at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine was established in his name. Currently, Hank Seifert is the John Edward Porter Professor of Biomedical Research and a professor of Microbiology-Immunology.

“My father was always very fond of and loyal to Northwestern,” said his son, David Porter. “He took great pride in not only being a graduate, but also in working closely with the University to help them achieve funding for vital projects and buildings.”

Porter served on several boards over the years including the PBS Foundation, the First Focus Campaign for Children, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the Bretton Woods Committee, the Inter-American Dialogue and the Council on Foreign Relations. He previously chaired Research!America, PBS and was a trustee of the Brookings Institution and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He also was a member of the boards of the RAND Corporation and the American Heart Association.

A native Evanstonian, Porter was born June 1, 1935. He graduated from Evanston Township High School in 1953 and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern in 1957. He then earned a law degree from the University of Michigan. A military veteran, he served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1958-1964. He received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Northwestern in 1999.

Porter is survived by his spouse, Amy, children and stepchildren John, David, Annie, Robyn, Donna, McKay and Michelle, and 14 grandchildren. Services will be held later this month in Virginia and the family is planning services in Illinois later this summer.