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MSNBC’s Chris Matthews will introduce Tom Foley documentary in Spokane on Thursday

U.S. Rep. Tom Foley is seen in his Washington D.C. office in this June 1989 photo. A documentary about Foley’s life and political career is scheduled to premier this week in Spokane.  (PHOTO ARCHIVE (SR))
U.S. Rep. Tom Foley is seen in his Washington D.C. office in this June 1989 photo. A documentary about Foley’s life and political career is scheduled to premier this week in Spokane. (PHOTO ARCHIVE (SR))

A documentary film premiering this week in Spokane is intended not to honor the political heights of Tom Foley’s legislative career, but the temperament of the man who accomplished them.

“I have, from the moment I met him, been engaged by his charm, his wit, and his practical approach to civility,” said Dennis Bracy, producer of the film “The Gentleman Speaker: Conversations with Tom Foley.”

A portion of the film, which has been in development for more than 15 years and includes extended interviews with the Spokane lawmaker recorded over several days in 2007 before his death in 2013, will air Thursday night at a fundraiser for the Washington State University institute that bears his name. Bracy said it’s taken that long to secure funding to edit the more than five hours of footage from the interviews into a broadcast-length documentary, for which he hopes to find a national distributor.

“Tom was an extraordinary storyteller. He had this way of weaving history with a slight Irish flourish to make the stories engaging,” Bracy said. “They all had a little bit of a moral to them, without being preachy, without being pedantic.

“I decided that we had to capture that for posterity.”

The event will feature a conversation with Chris Matthews, the former MSNBC political commentator, author and professor of politics who became acquainted with Foley during his time as chief of staff to Rep. Tip O’Neill, the Speaker of the House from 1977 to 1987. Matthews narrates the documentary, which combines the recorded interviews with archival footage of Foley in Eastern Washington and Washington D.C.

Cornell Clayton, director of the Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service, said the film is a snapshot into what national politics were like during Foley’s 30 years in Congress, and what they could be again.

“What’s important is that we maintain that Foley legacy and instill that in the next generation of young leaders,” Clayton said. “To show young people our politics don’t have to be as ugly as they are today, as divisive as they are today.”

Bracy, who met Foley while serving as vice president of Kaiser Aluminum in the early 1980s, said Matthews was a logical choice to narrate the film.

“He believes in all of this, the need to rekindle some respect and collaboration, and move out of the mire that we’ve been in for some years,” Bracy said.

Tickets for the event, which begins at 6 p.m., are available to purchase for $150 online at foley.wsu.edu/chris-matthews. The program will also include remarks from Sen. Maria Cantwell. The event will be held at Riverside Place, 1110 W. Riverside Ave., in Spokane.

Those who can’t make the dinner can watch the documentary in its entirety during a planned airing Saturday on KHQ-TV. The documentary is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.

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