Congressman Jim McGovern announces the death of Rep. Joe Moakley at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. Background is Fred Clark who ran Moakley's Boston office, and Sean Ryan. (AP Photo)
Pride of Southie passes away
By Jennifer Hoyt, Associated Press, 05/28/01
BETHESDA, Md. (AP) - Rep. Joseph Moakley, D-Mass., whose political career took him from the poor streets of South Boston to Capitol Hill, died Monday from complications of leukemia.
US Rep. J. Joseph Moakley
Born: April 27th, 1927
Died: May 28th, 2001
Education: Attended University of Miami, 1950-51; Suffolk University, JD, 1956
Experience: Navy, 1943-46; Massachusetts House, 1953-63; Massachusetts Senate, 1965-71; Boston City Council, 1971-73; US House of Representatives, 9th District, 1972-2001.
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Moakley, who announced in February that he suffered from an incurable form of leukemia, died at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in suburban Washington, according to associates and family members.
Moakley, who died at 3:30 p.m. EDT, with friends and family including two of his brothers at his side, was 74 years old.
The affable Moakley was the quintessential, old-time Boston Irish politician. After narrowly winning his first congressional election in 1972, he served 15 terms in Congress. He was the top Democrat in the powerful House Rules Committee.
"Joe Moakley not only taught us how to live ... he taught us how to die with great class and with great dignity and even with a little humor," Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., a former top aide to Moakley, said at a news conference.
McGovern said Moakley considered being a congressman "the greatest job in the world" and that he continued answering mail, working on legislation and with his constituents "up until the very end" when his condition turned for the worse over the Memorial holiday weekend.
President Bush, during a stop in Mesa, Ariz., asked the crowd to observe a moment of silence for Moakley, whom he called a veteran "who loved America" and one who will "be sorely missed." Moakley joined the Navy as a teen-ager and served in World War II.
In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino ordered flags flow at half staff.
"He was a lunchpail, neighborhood, standup, go-to kind of guy," said former Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn of Moakley. "He was somebody who never forgot where he came from."
Moakley entered the hospital on May 21 for a routine blood transfusion that normally lasted a couple of days. But he remained hospitalized and on Sunday was described as being in grave condition. His family and friends were close by when he died.
Moakley has had a history of illness. He previously had a liver transplant, a kidney removed and his hip replaced.
After disclosing his illness from leukemia on Feb. 12, Moakley announced he would not seek a 16th term in 2002.
Moakley's death leaves three vacancies in the House where Republicans will now hold a 221-209 edge over Democrats. There are two independents. Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift, a Republican, must call a special election to determine Moakley's successor.
Moakley's brothers, Bob and Tom arrived from Massachusetts to keep vigil. They were by his side when he died. Moakley was a widower. His wife of nearly 40 years, Evelyn, died in 1996 of brain cancer. They had no children.
In the months after his announcement, he was showered with accolades. Congress has declared the federal courthouse in Boston to be named the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse.
Signing the legislation in March at a White House ceremony, President Bush saluted Moakley as "a man of strong opinions and broad respect."
"And in this town," the president quipped, "it isn't always easy to combine the two."
"I always thought growing up that my name would be on some federal building," Moakley responded. "But I thought it might be written in chalk with some political expletive right behind it."
A longtime friend of former House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, Moakley lived in South Boston his entire life, commuting from Washington on weekends. With his Irish features and strong accent, the outgoing lawmaker mingled colorful stories into discussions on otherwise serious topics.
"Joe embodied the highest ideals and values of the nation, and public service is a more noble profession because of his life and the example that he set," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. He said Moakley as dean of Massachusetts' congressional delegation "touched the hearts of all of our people."
During his 28 years in Congress, Moakley spent much of his time in support of local projects such as building the courthouse that bears his name, the $14 billion Big Dig highway project and the multi-billion Boston Harbor cleanup.
While not known for his foreign policy expertise, during the 1980s, Moakley fought to cut off military aid to El Salvador and bring to justice the murderers of Jesuit priests there. He led a congressional probe that uncovered evidence that the El Salvador military, which had been heavily subsidized by U.S. aid, had roused the priests from their beds and shot them in the head.
He spent 16 years in the Massachusetts legislature, dating back to 1953. In 1970, he lost the Democratic primary for Congress to Louise Day Hicks, a busing opponent. Two years later he defeated Hicks by about 5,000 votes running as an independent in a rearranged congressional district. Since then, he has enjoyed large re-election victories, usually greater than 70 percent.
Plans for funeral services were to be announced Tuesday.