Thousands of miles from his old congressional stomping grounds, friends and family of Tom Foley remembered the qualities that elevated the man to legendary statesman.
“Thank you so much for coming to salute the life of a great, great man,” Foley’s wife, Heather, told a crowd of hundreds at St. Aloysius Church at Gonzaga University on Friday, her voice breaking.
The pews were filled with regional political luminaries, Gonzaga officials and constituents, all present to share stories and reflect on the Spokane lawmaker’s accomplishments. Before beginning a legislative career that spanned three decades, Foley spent three years at Gonzaga and returned to teach constitutional law. Foley died from complications of a stroke Oct. 18, and was recognized at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., earlier this week.
“God, we can imagine there, watching the saints come marching in,” said Steve Kuder, a Gonzaga University rector offering the homily prayer during a memorial service held for Foley on Friday, which was also the day Roman Catholics venerate all saints. “There among them, straight and tall, Tom Foley.”
While lawmakers, including the current holder of Foley’s seat, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, were among those paying their respects, several speakers offered tales of Foley behind the scenes. Michael Price, a Spokane County Superior Court judge and a cousin of Foley, said he brought a girlfriend to meet the lawmaker at his home. Foley showed up late, drawing the ire of his mother and Price’s aunt, Helen.
“My Aunt Helen looks right at Tom and says, ‘We’ve all been waiting,’ ” Price said. “It really didn’t matter if Tom was the majority whip, he was in trouble.”
Price said Foley stepped in when Price’s mother died in a plane crash, despite his legislative duties.
“He literally held my family together,” Price said.
There were moments of levity during the service as well. Foley’s nephew, John Latimer, told of growing up in “Tom Foley for Congress” sweatshirts, “to the bewilderment of other Californians.” Sen. Maria Cantwell, who served with Foley in the House, said she remembered the Spokane lawmaker presiding over a committee meeting on Capitol Hill that lasted late into the night, prompting Foley’s wife to enter the chamber and beckon him.
“I’ve never seen the Speaker move so fast in my life,” Cantwell said.
Heather Foley spoke of her husband as constantly impressing her with his wit, wisdom and kindness. She spoke of his happy shock at winning the 1980 congressional race, defeating Republican John Sonneland by fewer than 9,000 votes. Foley left his chairmanship of the Agricultural Committee as the next Congress convened, and Heather Foley worried about the cramped quarters and new staff his position as majority whip afforded.
“I should have known that this extraordinary man was destined for extraordinary things,” Heather Foley said. She returned to her seat to a standing ovation, and her remarks were followed by the singing of “America the Beautiful.”
The visual centerpiece, a photo of Foley in a navy sport jacket and open yellow dress shirt flanked by fall foliage, almost wasn’t. Don Hamilton, a local commercial photographer, took the picture in the early 2000s, he said. Hamilton cropped and framed it in a frenzied dash when he learned the official congressional portrait on display in Washington, D.C., hadn’t arrived in Spokane in time for the ceremony.
Lin McGinn sat in the pews with those paying respect. Active in local politics in the 1960s, McGinn said she spoke with Foley several times at state conventions about women’s issues. She remembered one convention when she sat with cattle ranchers over a chicken dinner. As Foley came by, the men gave him a hard time about the absence of steak on their plates.
“He said, ‘Guys, this is a Democratic convention, we can’t afford the beef,’ ” McGinn said. Memories of speaking with Foley face-to-face brought tears to her eyes.
Foley’s cousin Price concluded his remarks by adopting the words of his late relative. In a TV interview he watched recently, Price said, Foley described meeting President John F. Kennedy as the young commander in chief appearing in color among a crowd of people in black-and-white.
“Now, it seems ironic that Tom himself would so perfectly sum up how we saw him,” Price said. “A man who selflessly gave to his country, to this state, and to his family. A man who we will always remember in Technicolor.”
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