Thomas S. Foley, a former Speaker of the House who served 15 terms in the United States Congress before losing his seat in the “Republican Revolution” of 1994, died in Washington on Friday. He was 84.
Jeffrey R. Biggs, who formerly served as Foley’s press secretary, confirmed the death to the New York Times. Foley’s wife Heather, who worked for years in Washington as his unpaid chief of staff, also confirmed the news, telling the Associated Press that his death was a result of complications from a stroke.
In a 10-page obituary written for her husband of nearly 45 years, Heather Foley said that the former lawmaker had suffered a decline in his health over the past few months, experiencing a stroke in December and battling a severe bout of pneumonia in May. She said that he had been treated by hospice ever since returning from the hospital.
“Foley was very much a believer that the perfect should not get in the way of the achievable," she wrote in the obituary, adding that he had believed "half of something was better than none."
"There was always another day and another Congress to move forward and get the other half done," she wrote.
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Foley was remembered by a spate of influential political figures on Friday. Current House Speaker John Boehner called Foley “forthright and warmhearted,” and offered “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 released on Friday, President Obama said, “Today, America has lost a legend of the United States Congress.”
“For thirty years, Tom Foley represented the people of Washington’s 5th district with skill, dedication, and a deep commitment to improving the lives of those he was elected to serve,” he continued. “Tom’s straightforward approach helped him find common ground with members of both parties, eventually leading to his election as the 57th Speaker of the House. After his career in Congress, Tom served as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, where his poise and civility helped strengthen our relationship with one of our closest allies. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Tom’s wife, Heather, and the entire Foley family.”