Former House Speaker Tom Foley dead at 84
October 18th, 2013
12:22 PM ET
6 months ago

Former House Speaker Tom Foley dead at 84

(CNN) - Former U.S. House Speaker Tom Foley died at his home in Washington, D.C., his wife Heather confirmed Friday.

Foley, 84, was a Democrat who represented Washington state in the House for 30 years and served as speaker from 1989 to January 1995.

After his tenure on Capitol Hill, he was appointed U.S. ambassador to Japan by President Bill Clinton. He served from 1997 to 2001.

Foley became the 57th speaker in 1989 after then-Speaker James Wright resigned from office amid an ethics scandal.

Before taking that post, Foley served as House majority leader, majority whip and Agriculture Committee chairman, and was an influential member of the Select House Committee on Iran Contra.

He was first elected to the House in 1964, beating incumbent Republican Walt Horan, a 27-year veteran of the House.

Foley's career in Congress ended three decades later when he was defeated in 1994, the year Republicans retook the House in what is sometimes known as the "Republican Revolution." He was succeeded as speaker by then-Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia.

Current House Speaker John Boehner on Friday said Foley's rise to speaker was a "natural sequence for a natural leader."

"Forthright and warmhearted, Tom Foley endeared himself not only to the wheat farmers back home but also colleagues on both sides of the aisle," Boehner said in a written statement. "That had a lot to do with his solid sense of fairness, which remains a model for any Speaker or representative."

President Barack Obama said in a statement that Foley had a "straightforward approach" and represented his constituents with "skill, dedication, and a deep commitment to improving the lives of those he was elected to serve."

Former President George H.W. Bush said that Foley "represented the very best in public service - and our political system" and "never got personal or burned bridges."

Foley had a largely liberal record in Congress, supporting Great Society programs and opposing the Vietnam War. He was pro-abortion rights, backed the Equal Rights Amendment, and opposed capital punishment, as well as a constitutional amendment allowing school prayer.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also said Foley had an "unrivaled ability" to build consensus and find common ground in the House.

"Our country mourns the loss of a leader whose authenticity, dedication, and diplomacy will forever serve as an example to all of us who strive to make a difference through public service," Pelosi said in a written statement.

Foley graduated from the University of Washington in 1951 and from Washington Law School in 1957. In his legal career, he served as assistant attorney general for Washington state and deputy prosecutor in Spokane County.

Before running for Congress, Foley worked as a special counsel to the Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee from 1961 to 1964.

Foley is survived by his wife, Heather, whom he married in December 1968.


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soundoff (59 Responses)
  1. Michael in Alabama

    What a classy gentleman. Met him twice and found him to be very much down to earth. May he rest in peace.

    October 18, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  2. The Real Tom Paine

    RIP, Mr. Speaker.

    October 18, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  3. Gurgyl

    Democrats surely, greatly miss you, sir. May your soul rest in peace,.

    October 18, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  4. TONE

    R.I.P

    October 18, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  5. Phil in KC

    That's sad. He was a good Speaker. Too bad we don't have more like him today.

    October 18, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  6. Mike

    John Boehner could use a lesson in governing the House by watching tapes of Foley.

    October 18, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  7. Steve

    Speaker Foley was a true gentleman of the House. He was successful because he was reasonable, compassionate, and honest. He kept his word. He was defeated in his House district in Washington state because he would not stoop to the tactics that the Gingrich crowd used against him. For him, public service was an honor and a privilege he never took lightly.

    October 18, 2013 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  8. Shawvon

    My prayers go out to his family and friends. I had the privilege of working with Speaker Foley and it was one of the best times of my life. I was deeply honored to walk the same hallways as the Speaker and I will forever remember the Gentle Giant. May he rest in peace!

    October 18, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  9. E in Medford

    Good guy.

    October 18, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  10. Daveindallas

    A 10 year old also died today of cancer....
    Which of these stories do you think I care more about..

    October 18, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  11. SIVIA

    A good man. How ironic that his life ended the same day the Government Shutdown ended. Free at Last.

    October 18, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  12. Patrick Portland

    A different time.

    October 18, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  13. Fish

    Speaker Foley served our nation very well, may he rest in peace.

    October 18, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  14. Really?

    Sorry to hear that, Daveindallas – but this is a political blog post. Was the 10 year old active in politics?

    October 18, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  15. Doug

    Newt the Grinch tried to smear him as gay in 1994. Before that, disgraced republican Robert Bauman tried to out him in his book "The Gentleman from Maryland." If he was gay, I would be very proud to include this genuine gentleman in our ranks!

    October 18, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  16. Bruno Cruz

    84 isn't young, but I thought this guy would live to 100. He was also known in DC for his dedication to fitness and could still bench a lot of weight towards the end of this congressional career when he was in his sixties.

    October 18, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  17. Jobi

    Another Democrat goes to Hell..........

    October 18, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  18. Larry

    Where are the REAL MEN like him when we need them. A true example of class and dignity. RIP Speaker Foley

    October 18, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  19. Eagle

    Daveindallas...

    I sure hope that everyone from Texas isn't as thoughtless and insensitive as you, but the trends I see on these comment blogs sadly suggests otherwise.

    October 18, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  20. Malory Archer

    John Paul

    He's probably in Hell. So I think he will be doing anything BUT resting in peace.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    And there it is.

    Just yesterday there was an article on the ticker about my congressman Bill Young being gravely ill. While we on the left aren't fond of him we kept our opinions to ourselves and wished him well. The tighty righties prove once again that "compassionate conservative" is an oxymoron. Their parents should have raised them better.

    October 18, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  21. Malory Archer

    lary

    1 down 1 to go

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    And there it is

    Just yesterday there was an article on the ticker about my congressman Bill Young being gravely ill. While we on the left aren't fond of him we kept our opinions to ourselves and wished him well. The tighty righties prove once again that "compassionate conservative" is an oxymoron. Their parents should have raised them better.

    October 18, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  22. Malory Archer

    Reagan

    Bush's fault

    ++++++++++++++++

    Grow up.

    October 18, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  23. Malory Archer

    4urpost

    another fat cat...we all die, but these jerks need to go 1st

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Just yesterday there was an article on the ticker about my congressman Bill Young being gravely ill. While we on the left aren't fond of him we kept our opinions to ourselves and wished him well. The tighty righties prove once again that "compassionate conservative" is an oxymoron. Their parents should have raised them better.

    October 18, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  24. Malory Archer

    Daveindallas

    A 10 year old also died today of cancer....
    Which of these stories do you think I care more about..

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Did you post on both message threads? That being said:Just yesterday there was an article on the ticker about my congressman Bill Young being gravely ill. While we on the left aren't fond of him we kept our opinions to ourselves and wished him well. The tighty righties prove once again that "compassionate conservative" is an oxymoron. Their parents should have raised them better.

    October 18, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  25. Tampa Tim

    Daveindallas – Seek help.

    October 18, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
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