Obituary
3:39 pm
Fri October 18, 2013

Former Titan of Northwest Politics Tom Foley Dead at 84

 

Former U.S. House Speaker Tom Foley has died of complications from strokes. He was 84.

The Democrat served nearly 30 years in Congress before being defeated in the Gingrich Revolution of 1994.

Foley had the distinction of becoming the first, and so far only, Speaker of the House from the Northwest. He was also the first Speaker defeated at the polls since the Civil War.

Foley grew up on Spokane’s South Hill, the son of a prominent judge. As a politician, he described himself as a “peace maker, not street fighter.” It might have been his Achilles heel.

“Arm-twisting, threatening, those are attributes that certainly were honed to a fine art by other politicians. They were just not a part of his character and I don’t think he was willing to try to adopt them in order to succeed,” said Tom Keefe, former chairman of the Spokane County Democratic Party who worked on Capitol Hill during the Foley era.

After losing Congress, Foley and his wife, Heather, remained in Washington, D.C. He became partner in a high-profile law firm and served as ambassador to Japan under President Bill Clinton.

Former U.S. House Speaker Tom Foley has died of complications from strokes. He was 84.

The Democrat served nearly 30 years in Congress before being defeated in the Gingrich Revolution of 1994.

Foley had the distinction of becoming the first, and so far only, Speaker of the House from the Northwest. He was also the first Speaker defeated at the polls since the Civil War.

Foley grew up on Spokane’s South Hill, the son of a prominent judge. As a politician, he described himself as a “peace maker, not street fighter.” It might have been his Achilles heel.

“Arm-twisting, threatening, those are attributes that certainly were honed to a fine art by other politicians. They were just not a part of his character and I don’t think he was willing to try to adopt them in order to succeed,” said Tom Keefe, former chairman of the Spokane County Democratic Party who worked on Capitol Hill during the Foley era.

After losing Congress, Foley and his wife, Heather, remained in Washington, D.C. He became partner in a high-profile law firm and served as ambassador to Japan under President Bill Clinton.

In His Hometown, a Lasting Inspiration

Foley represented Spokane and a large swath of far eastern Washington from 1965 to 1995. As a student at Gonzaga University, Foley honed his skills in political persuasion on the Catholic college's debate team.

Johnny Draxler, the current student body president at Gonzaga, says Foley's example is an inspiration to him even decades after the Speaker served.

“Tom Foley was in office for only a few months of my own life. I'm only 21, but I come across stories from his legacy all the time. Looking at his work with the Voting Rights Act and the kind of work he did in order to cooperate with a dissenting executive branch and Senate,” Draxler said.

Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Colville, Wash., now holds Foley's seat. She released a statement praising the former speaker for his work to boost eastern Washington agriculture.