Thomas S. Foley, the 57th Speaker of the House who won the seat after Jim Wright was accused of ethics violations, died on Friday from complications related to a stroke he suffered last year. He was 84 years old.
Foley, who was born in Washington state, went to school to become a lawyer and entered private practice as a prosecuting attorney before going on to work for the state of Washington Attorney General. He later went on to the 5th congressional seat before moving up to majority whip and then majority leader.
Foley was well-known for his willingness to work with Republican ideas; for instance, he frankly supported Ronald Reagan's economic strategy despite the controversy it created.
“There is a degree to which you can sort of push, encourage, support, direct,” he said in an interview with the New York Times. “But the Speakership isn’t a dictatorship.”
Many felt that Foley was a casualty of the changes that occurred in the House during the '90s; by 1994, the Republicans were accusing the Democrats of being out of touch and went on to win the first majority for their party in 40 years. Foley eventually lost his bid for re-election, the first Speaker to do so since the Civil War.
“It was a time when the House was unraveling,” said congressional scholar Thomas E. Mann, “and so it was a very difficult period, especially for someone like Foley who had . . . such respect for the institution and reverence for it.”