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Former House Speaker Tom Foley Dies At 84

House Speaker Tom Foley (back, right) and Vice President Al Gore applaud during President Bill Clinton's State of the Union address on Jan. 24, 1994.
Ron Edmonds
House Speaker Tom Foley (back, right) and Vice President Al Gore applaud during President Bill Clinton's State of the Union address on Jan. 24, 1994.

Former House Speaker Tom Foley, who led the chamber from 1989 to 1995, has died, according to his family. He was 84.

The Associated Press says Foley's wife, Heather, confirmed that the Washington state Democrat died at his Washington, D.C., home.

He had reportedly been in ill health in recent months.

The AP says:

"Foley became the first speaker since the Civil War to fail to win re-election in his home district.

"The courtly politician lost his seat in the 'Republican Revolution' of 1994. The Democrat had never served a single day in the minority. He was defeated by Republican Spokane lawyer George Nethercutt.

"Foley served as U.S. ambassador to Japan for four years during the Clinton administration. But he spent the most time in the House, serving 30 years including more than five as speaker."

The Spokesman-Review, in Foley's native Spokane, says the former House speaker, the son of a Spokane County Superior Court judge, was "a young deputy Spokane County prosecutor before going to Washington, D.C., as an aide to Sen. Henry 'Scoop' Jackson in the early 1960s."

"He ran against a well-established Republican incumbent, Walt Horan, in 1964.

"Foley often told the story of his entry into that race, on the last day of filing week. He had asked longtime Democratic leader Joe Drumheller for support in 1966, when it was assumed Horan would retire; Drumheller fumed against young politicians who were always putting things off, adding that he'd back Foley that year but not two years hence. Foley thought it over, wired his resignation to Jackson, and got in a car with a couple friends to drive to Olympia, where his paperwork had to be filed by 5 p.m. that day.

"They arrived in Olympia and ran out of gas. Foley had to run to the Secretary of State's office, arriving just before closing time."

Update At 1:20 p.m. ET. Foley Was 'Forthright And Warmhearted,' Boehner Says

House Speaker John Boehner described Foley as "forthright and warmhearted" and on behalf of the House of Representatives extended "heartfelt sympathy to Tom's wife, Heather, a longtime friend of this institution."

"We will keep her and all of Tom's friends and loved ones in our prayers. He will be dearly missed," he said in a statement.

Update At 1:00 p.m. ET. Pelosi: Foley 'Quintessenial Champion Of The Common Good'

"For thirty-six years, Speaker Tom Foley served our country as a quintessential champion of the common good," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who held the speaker's post from 2007 to 2011, said in a statement issued Friday afternoon.

She praised Foley for the "strength of his principles" and his "unrivaled ability to build consensus and find common ground."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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