Tom Foley: Remembering an Eastern Washington giant

Together we remember the life of an Eastern Washington giant, Tom Foley, who represented our Fifth Congressional District with distinction for thirty years.

Tom Foley
Tom Foley

Even today, wheat farmers and all the citizens of our district benefit from the tremendous work he did to ensure that farmers had a voice in the nation’s capital, to protect Fairchild, and improve infrastructure.

He rose as high as a person can rise in politics, chosen by his colleagues to be Speaker of the House, a position he held from 1989 to 1995.

On the floor of the House last week I introduced a resolution in his memory, and the House adjourned out of respect for his passing.

After he left the House, he served with distinction as America’s ambassador to Japan. In a country where experience and age are respected, his lifetime of service was a badge of honor that helped him keep trade relations between the world’s two biggest economies on a smooth course.

After I was elected in 2004, I met with him when he visited during the State of the Union and on other occasions.  He was always a perfect gentleman, kind and insightful.

Now, as I am a member of House Leadership, I can see more clearly the challenges Speaker Foley faced and the great grace and wisdom he showed in carrying out those duties.

On one hand, a member of Leadership has an ability to influence legislation in a manner that is important to our district. On the other hand, as a leader chosen by the other Members of Congress, it is important to set an example for your colleagues from all over the country. Tom Foley managed to thread that needle well.

We remember Tom Foley’s leadership as a time that was less gridlocked than the one we live in today. Certainly there was no 24 hour news cycle, no MSNBC and Fox News, and little of the heated rhetoric we hear so often today from both sides.

Before the “Republican Revolution” of 1994 that cost Tom Foley his congressional seat and Speakership, one party controlled the House for forty years. I grew up with that image of Congress, where extraordinary leaders like Tip O’Neil and Tom Foley battled with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Tom is survived by his wife Heather who worked for many years at his side in the Capitol. Our condolences go out to her and to everyone who was close to Ambassador, Speaker Foley.

I have written this entire column without mentioning the political party to which Tom Foley belonged – because his passing is a loss for all of the 5th Congressional District regardless of party.

But out of respect for the man and his memory, I will conclude by saying he was proudly and always a Democrat, who believed deeply in the principles of his party and in the greatness of our country.

He loved and served his country, his party, and his district where he grew up. We should all follow his example.