By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Representative Bill Young of Florida, the longest-serving Republican member of Congress, died on Friday more than a week after announcing his plans to retire, his family said in a statement. He was 82.
Young, a 22-term congressman and the former chairman of the powerful U.S. House Appropriations Committee, died at 6:50 p.m. ET (2250 GMT), his chief of staff, Harry Glenn, said in an email.
He had been at Walter Reed National Military Center in Bethesda, Maryland, suffering from back problems related to a 1970 plane crash. The cause of death was complications related to a chronic injury, according to the statement from his family.
Young announced on October 9 that he planned to step down when his current term ended.
"It's only been a week since we began trying to imagine the House without Bill Young - an impossible task in its own right - and now he is gone," House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. He called Young "a man who had seen it all and accomplished much."
Young was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee from 1999-2005, and served three separate stints as chairman of its defense subcommittee, a position he held at the time of his death.
Known for bringing hundreds of millions of federal dollars to Florida, he is credited with saving MacDill Air Force Base from closing in 1991 and securing federal funds for the U.S. Central Command's $75 million headquarters there, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
He was also instrumental in creating a national registry for bone marrow donors in 1986. Now named after him, it lists nearly 10 million volunteer donors and has facilitated transplants for more than 50,000 people.
Once reliably Republican, Young's district on Florida's western coast has backed the party's presidential nominee only once since 1988. Republican George W. Bush won 51 percent of the district's votes in 2004, but it went for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Young, who opposed the recent federal government shutdown and said he was ready to vote for a budget resolution that included funding for the Obama administration's healthcare law, was unable to vote on Wednesday when Congress passed the bill to reopen the government and extend federal borrowing power.
"He 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," Obama said in a statement late on Friday.
Under Florida law, Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, will call a special election to fill Young's seat. The result will not affect the balance of power in the House, where Republicans hold a 32-seat majority.
Young served in the Florida Senate from 1960-1970. Those years were marked by one of the few stains on his political career, his membership on the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee from 1962-1964.
Better known as the Johns Committee, the panel targeted people suspected of homosexuality or communism.
His views of homosexuality, which in 1964 he called "very repulsive," also changed. "That's the decision of the people who are involved in it," Young told the Times in 1993.
Young's survivors include his wife, Beverly, and three sons.
(Reporting by David Bailey, David Adams and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Paul Simao)
- Politics & Government
- Bill Young
- House Appropriations Committee