WASHINGTON – Pausing for a rare detente, President Obama and members of Congress gathered Tuesday for a memorial service for former House Speaker Tom Foley, praising the Spokane Democrat as an ideal embodiment of a public servant whose type of bipartisanship many said was lamentably lacking today.
The invitation-only event at Statuary Hall inside the Capitol was attended by 300 family, friends and former colleagues.
Newt Gingrich, the man who took Foley’s job as speaker after the Democrat’s ignominious defeat in the 1994 elections, sat in the front row. Former President Clinton lauded Foley as a tough-minded politico who understood difficult votes came with heavy price, and paid them anyway.
And Robert H. Michel, who served as Foley’s Republican foil for 14 years as House minority leader, said the two men shared a trust and the belief that their beloved House of Representatives was “one of the great creations of a free people.”
Foley died at 84 on Oct. 18 from complications from strokes. He had been in home hospice for months in Washington, D.C.
The service was organized by the office of Speaker John Boehner. Foley’s widow, Heather, was escorted into the room by Obama and Boehner.