WASHINGTON -- Tom Foley, the courtly former speaker of the U.S. House who lost his seat when Republicans seized control of Congress in 1994, has died of complications from a stroke. He was 84.
His wife, Heather, said the former speaker had suffered the stroke last December and was hospitalized in May with pneumonia. He returned home after a week and had been on hospice care there ever since, she said.
As Speaker of the House of Representatives, Foley became one of the most powerful politicians the State of Washington ever sent to the "other" Washington.
He came to Capitol Hill in 1961 to work for Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson. Jackson convinced him to run for the House two years later. And in 1964, Tom Foley was swept into Congress on the LBJ landslide.
The Spokane Democrat made friends at both ends of the political spectrum.
He was also a master of Old Boy politics and backroom deal making -- delivering agriculture, military and infrastructure programs to his largely rural District.
He rose quickly, to Democratic Whip, and impressed then-Speaker, Tip O'Neill, who seemed to know what the future held for the gentleman from Spokane.
Foley's ability to explain complex issues, like debt reduction, helped him reach consensus.
And when the Democrats needed passion, he brought that, too on issues like stopping funding to the contras in Nicaragua.
He became Speaker in 1989 with the resignation of Jim Wright. He began building the Northwest's clout through committee assignments junior members like Norm Dicks and Jim McDermott,
Foley's "aw-shucks" demeanor and political stature helped him get re-elected 14 times.
But even as he accompanied the President on triumphant visits home, his constituents' mood began to change. Foley voted for a ban on automatic weapons, which angered the NRA. He voted against term limits when his constituents felt new blood outweighed seniority. He was defeated by George Nethercutt in the Republican revolution of 1994 - the first sitting Speaker to be voted out of office in 134 years.
In 1997, he became President Clinton's choice for U.S. Ambassador to Japan. Familiar with trade and agriculture issues that were so important to the Land of the Rising Sun, Foley was given an honor not even offered to President Clinton: a ride to the Emperor's palace in the Royal Carriage.
In 1995, Washington State University established the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service.
Foley was born March 6, 1929 in Spokane, the only son of Ralph and Helen. He attended Gonzaga Prep and Gonzaga University. He transferred to the University of Washington and then UW Law School.
Foley is survived by his wife, Heather. They had no children.
Funeral plans are pending.
Foley served as President Clinton’s ambassador to Japan from 1997 to 2001.