|CHARLES NORWOOD JR. (ap file/2001)|
WASHINGTON -- US Representative Charles Norwood Jr., a Georgia dentist who rode the Republican tidal wave in 1994 that gave the GOP control of the House, died yesterday after battling cancer and lung disease.
Representative Norwood, 65, died at his home in Augusta, Ga., his office said. House members debating the war in Iraq briefly interrupted proceedings for a moment of silence in his honor.
Representative Norwood suffered from a chronic lung disease and later developed metastatic cancer that spread from his lung to his liver. He declined further treatment last week and returned home to Georgia.
"Charlie was a great member of this body and a friend to all," Representative Nathan Deal, a Georgia Republican, said on the House floor. Governor Sonny Perdue ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at Georgia state buildings.
The vacancy created by Representative Norwood's death should be filled quickly. In Georgia, the governor submits an official request for a special election to the secretary of state. The request must be made within 10 days of the seat being vacated, with the election to be held no fewer than 30 days later.
A feisty, tobacco-chewing conservative who loved to hunt and who railed against government bureaucracy, the congressman came out of nowhere to beat Democratic incumbent Don Johnson in 1994. He became the first Republican to represent his eastern Georgia district since shortly after the Civil War.
Representative Norwood had a dry wit and rarely settled for diplomatic language. When a Democrat complained that he cut off questioning at a mine safety hearing last year, Representative Norwood responded: "When you get in charge, you get to run the damn thing. Right now, you're not."
He wasn't afraid to criticize his own party when he thought it was veering off course, calling Republicans who backed compromise immigration legislation last year turncoats.
Representative Norwood prided himself on serving his district, touting his success in cutting through federal regulations a decade ago to allow a constituent to bring home a stuffed polar bear the man had killed on a hunting trip in Canada.
It was his zeal for protesting governmental intrusion , along with his Southern charm, that earned Representative Norwood easy reelection for most of his career, said David Barbee, a longtime friend in Augusta.
"I've seen him go to fish fries and whatnot, and there would be 500 people, and he'd shake every hand there," Barbee said. "He was just a good people person."
Representative Norwood's passion was healthcare. Taking on the insurance companies, he spent much of his political career pressing for a patient bill of rights aimed at giving consumers better access to care, including greater ability to sue insurers.
More recently, he focused on the issue of immigration, saying the country faces a "true invasion" and calling for nearly 40,000 troops on the border. He also was one of just 33 House members to vote against renewing the Voting Rights Act last year, arguing that it discriminates against Southern states over long-past racial transgressions.
Born in Valdosta, Ga., he attended boarding school at Baylor School, a military academy in Chattanooga, Tenn.
It was there that he shot and killed a close friend as the two were playing quick-draw with what they thought was an unloaded pistol. A staunch advocate for gun rights, he said the accident convinced him that education and training are the best gun control, not restrictions.
He married his wife, Gloria, in 1962 while at Georgia Southern College. He earned a doctorate in dental surgery from Georgetown University.
He volunteered for the Army and earned two Bronze Stars in Vietnam in 1968.