In Memoriam: Tom Foley

Former Speaker of the House and GW honorary degree recipient passed away on Friday.

Thomas Foley
Thomas Foley, the 57th speaker of the House of Representatives and a recipient of the George Washington University's Honorary Doctor of Laws degree, passed away on Friday.
October 21, 2013

Thomas S. Foley, who served as the 57th speaker of the House of Representatives, passed away in his home on Friday. He was 84.

Mr. Foley received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the George Washington University in 1995.  His wife, Heather S. Foley, J.D. ’69, who worked closely with him during his service in Congress, is a member of the GW Board of Trustees.

“Our nation has lost an outstanding public servant who dedicated his life to serving others. The George Washington University community extends our deepest sympathies to our alumna and trustee Heather Foley and her family at this difficult time,” said George Washington University President Steven Knapp.

Mr. Foley also represented Washington’s 5th congressional district for 30 years and served as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan under former President Bill Clinton. He was remembered as a leader who rose through the ranks in Congress from majority whip to majority leader until becoming speaker in 1989. Others honored the Democratic leader’s ability to form consensus and unity among political parties.

Mr. Foley was born in Spokane, Wa. He attended the Gonzaga University and later transferred to the University of Washington, where he received his law degree in 1957. He became Spokane County deputy prosecutor in 1958, and later assistant state attorney general, an obituary in the Washington Post outlined.

His career in politics began in 1961, when Mr. Foley went to work in the U.S. Senate as Sen. Henry M. Jackson’s staff attorney, where he met Ms. Foley. In 1964, Mr. Foley made his first bid to Congress, according to the Seattle Times.

President Barack Obama issued a statement following the death of Mr. Foley, commending his straight forward approach that helped him find common ground with members of both parties.

“Today, America has lost a legend of the United States Congress. For 30 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,” President Obama said in the statement.

Mr. Foley was also honored in statements from Vice President Joe Biden, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, House Speaker John Boehner and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Ms. Foley told the Washington Post his death was caused by complications from strokes. Mr. Foley had been dealing with pneumonia and had previously suffered strokes.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Foley is survived by his sister, Maureen Latimer.