SPOKANE — Former U.S. House Speaker Tom Foley was remembered Friday as a statesman, a husband, and a friend to people great and small.
About 800 people attended a memorial service for the Spokane native at St. Aloysius Church on the campus of his alma mater, Gonzaga University.
The Democrat died Oct. 18 at his home in Washington, D.C., of complications from a stroke. He was 84.
“He represented the best the state of Washington had to offer,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “It is a great honor to represent 6½ million Washingtonians in honoring this titan of our democracy.”
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., remembered many of the benefits Foley brought back to his Eastern Washington district while serving in Congress for 30 years.
“He was a brilliant and courageous leader who belonged in the halls of power,” Murray said. “But he also belonged here in Spokane.”
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., remembered Foley as a great orator who also had a wry Irish wit. She noted how Foley, as chairman of the Agriculture Committee, helped rework the food stamp program in the Farm Bill so it would receive support from both urban and rural legislators.
“He easily figured out how to make Washington, D.C., work,” Cantwell said. “America needs more Tom Foleys.”
Foley was first elected in 1964 as the representative from Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District. He served five years as speaker of the House before losing to Republican George Nethercutt in the 1994 election. Nethercutt attended the memorial service.
Foley later served as ambassador to Japan under President Bill Clinton.
A memorial in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday was attended by President Barack Obama, who remembered Foley for putting problem-solving ahead of politics.
Other dignitaries at Friday’s memorial included former governors and congressmen from the state.
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who currently represents the 5th District, praised Foley for putting country ahead of party.
“Mr. Speaker, as long as I serve the people of Eastern Washington, I promise to make you proud,” said McMorris Rodgers, who is a member of the House GOP leadership.
Family members and friends reminisced about Foley’s parents and his upbringing in Spokane.
Spokane County Superior Court Judge Michael Price, a relative of Foley, recalled when the federal building in Spokane was named for Foley a decade ago, and what a rare honor it was to do that for a living person. Price remembered Foley telling relatives, “I’m pretty sure they thought I was already dead.”
Heather Foley, Foley’s wife and longtime chief of staff, was the final speaker. She recalled that when they were married in 1968, she had intended to practice law, but she started helping at his congressional office and never left.
She called Foley “a man of principle who was not afraid to compromise. He felt there was honor in compromising.”
“Thank you so much for coming to salute the life of a great, great man,” she said.
As House speaker from 1989 to 1995, Foley was second in the line of succession to the presidency, and the first speaker from west of Texas. He was the first speaker since the Civil War to be voted out of office.
As a young man, Foley studied at the feet of Washington state’s two legendary senators, Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson and Warren G. Magnuson. Jackson was his mentor and urged his former aide to run for the House in 1964.
Foley worked with leadership to get plum committee assignments. He became Agriculture Committee chairman by age 44. He eventually left that post, which he later called his favorite leadership position, to become Democratic whip, the caucus’s third-ranking post. The downfall of Jim Wright of Texas lifted him to the speaker’s chair.
Foley grew up in Spokane, where his father, Ralph, was a longtime judge and his mother, Helen, was a teacher.
Foley attended Gonzaga Preparatory School and Gonzaga University in Spokane. He graduated from the University of Washington Law School and worked as a prosecutor, assistant state attorney general and counsel for the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, which Jackson chaired, before running for Congress.