Ray LaHood (1945- )
Ray LaHood is of Lebanese ancestry; his grandparents emigrated from Lebanon to Peoria, Illinois, in 1895. Born on December 6, 1945, LaHood’s parents, Ed and Mary, ran a working-class restaurant and tavern on Southwest Jefferson Street in Peoria. They raised three sons—Mike, Ray, and Steve. Part of a deeply religious family with strong ties to St. Bernard’s Parish, the LaHood boys grew up in the blue-collar East Bluff neighborhood where Ray attended St. Bernard's Grade School.
Following graduation from Spalding Institute, Ray worked his way through Canton Junior College (now Spoon River College), transferred to Bradley University, and graduated with a B.S. degree in education and sociology in 1971. He met his future wife, Kathy Dunk, at Bradley.
After graduation, Ray taught social studies to junior high school students in Pekin and Peoria for six years. It was during this time that Ray developed his passion for politics and public service. In 1972, at age 26, Ray moved his family to Rock Island to take a position as director for the Bi-State Planning Commission and then as chief planner for the Rock Island Youth Services Bureau.
In 1977, LaHood accepted a position as district administrative assistant to Congressman Tom Railsback, a Republican from Moline, leaving after Railsback lost a primary race in March 1982. Ray was appointed to the Illinois House of Representatives that year and served in this seat through the fall election—he came up short in his effort to be retained to the General Assembly.
Following his service in the State House, Ray and his family moved back to Peoria as LaHood joined the staff of U.S. House Minority Leader Robert Michel. Ray ran Michel's district offices and then, in 1990, became chief of staff, overseeing operations both on Capitol Hill and in Illinois.
When Michel announced his retirement in 1993, Ray decided to run for election to the 18th congressional district seat. After surviving a three-way Republican primary, LaHood won the general election during the historic election of November 8, 1994, which gave Republicans a majority in Congress for the first time in 40 years.
Serving in the U.S. House of Representatives
Ray LaHood gained national prominence during his 14 years in Congress. The nationally respected publication Congressional Quarterly named him as one of 11 “freshmen to watch” during his first term, 1995-1996. As a testament to his parliamentary knowledge and even-handedness in conducting House proceedings, Ray was selected to chair the historic debate over the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in December 1998. LaHood also became known for his efforts to establish a higher level of civility, decorum, and bipartisanship in the House as a cosponsor of four “civility retreats.”
His committee assignments included the House Committee on Agriculture, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the House Appropriations Committee.
The U.S. Department of Transportation
Ray LaHood became the 16th Secretary of Transportation on January 23, 2009. In nominating him, President-elect Obama said, “Few understand our infrastructure challenge better than the outstanding public servant that I’m asking to lead the Department of Transportation.”
Secretary LaHood's tenure was marked by landmark efforts to improve safety in every mode of transportation, from aviation and rail to pipelines and automobiles. Under his leadership, improvements to America's infrastructure included building or replacing 350,000 miles of highway, repairing 20,000 bridges and renewing or constructing 6,000 miles of rail track. LaHood also achieved more stringent fuel efficiency requirements for automakers, took steps to address airline pilot fatigue, and turned the problem of distracted driving into a national concern. As Secretary of Transportation, he oversaw an agency with more than 55,000 employees and a $70 billion budget in charge of air, maritime, and surface transportation.
On January 29, 2013, LaHood announced his decision to leave the Cabinet:
I have let President Obama know that I will not serve a second term as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the Department, and I am grateful to President Obama for giving me such an extraordinary opportunity. I plan to stay on until my successor is confirmed to ensure a smooth transition for the Department and all the important work we still have to do.
In thanking Ray for his service, the president said: “Years ago, we were drawn together by a shared belief that those of us in public service owe an allegiance not to party or faction, but to the people we were elected to represent. And Ray has never wavered in that belief.”
LaHood left the department in July 2013.
After the Department of Transportation
Ray LaHood currently serves as Senior Adviser to The Dirksen Congressional Center. Among his other positions, he co-chairs Building America’s Future founded in 2008 to push for improvements in the nation’s infrastructure. In January 2014, LaHood joined DLA Piper, a global business law firm, as a senior policy advisor in the firm’s D.C. and Chicago offices.
Ray and Kathy have four children—Darin, Amy, Sam, Sara—and are the proud grandparents of 15 grandchildren.
Updated: January 6, 2020