A champion of US veterans' issues in the Congress, Rep. Bill Young of Florida died at Walter Reed hospital yesterday. He was 82.
Young was the longest serving Republican in Congress, having been elected to 21 terms. His service spanned the terms of 8 presidents. He is being remembered as a big supporter of active duty and retired soldiers, as well as a legislator who brought home billions in defese contracts for this Tampa area constituency.
His chief of staff, Harry Glenn, said in an email that Young died at 6:50 p.m. at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he had been for nearly two weeks with back problems that stemmed from a 1970 small plane crash. The email included a statement from Young's family, saying relatives were with Young when he died from complications related to a chronic injury.
The congressman was a longtime member of the House Appropriations Committee, where he focused on military spending. He and his wife frequently visited ailing service members at hospitals in the Washington area.
According to the newspaper, the congressman received a call Wednesday from former President George W. Bush, who thanked Young for his support of the military.
President Barack Obama issued a statement saying Young "will be remembered for his advocacy and support for the armed forces, service members, and their families as well as his statesmanship and long history of working across the aisle to keep our country moving forward."
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a written statement, "As Florida's longest serving member of Congress, Bill will be remembered as a true statesman and champion for the Tampa Bay area."
Former Gov. Charlie Crist lives in a part of St. Petersburg that used to be in Young's district before the lines were redrawn. During his time as governor, Crist said he considered Young for a U.S. Senate appointment, though ultimately chose someone else.
"He was an absolute giant in Florida politics," Crist said. "He was a true gentleman, kind to all."
Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry said Young "always stood up for the Sunshine State and fought for the best interests of its citizens."
His counterpart, state Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant said in a statement that for more than 40 years, "Young's dedication to Florida and consistent civility has set the standard for all of Florida public servants."
I recall meeting Rep. Young on several occassions during my time in Washington during the 1980's. He was a genial fellow whose staff was absolutely devoted to him. He played an important role in shaping the US military rebuilding in the 1980's, and was hugely knowledgeable about defense spending issues.
Young's district has become increasingly urbanized over the years and Republicans will be challenged to hang on to the seat in 2014.