LOUISVILLE -- Former Representative Marion G. "Gene" Snyder, an 11-term congressman, died Friday in Naples, Fla., where he had retired. He was 79.
"Kentucky lost a good friend," said Joe Whittle, a former US attorney who was with the family and who announced the death. "He brought a lot of improvements. He loved Kentucky. He was a great statesman."
A conservative Republican, Mr. Snyder was first elected in 1962 from Kentucky's 3d District, covering Louisville, but lost a re election bid. He ran again in 1966 for the 4th District seat and held it for the next two decades. He was succeeded by Jim Bunning, who is now a US senator.
Mr. Snyder, known for blunt rhetoric, served as a mentor to most of Kentucky's current congressional lawmakers, including Bunning and Senator Mitch McConnell.
"I will always remember Gene as the man who gave me my first real opportunity in politics," McConnell said in a statement. "In the summer of 1963 I served as an intern in his Capitol Hill office and I learned a lot from watching him work."
Mr. Snyder's energy set him apart, said former Representative Anne Northup, who served five terms in the 3d District.
"He filled a big space," said Northup, a Republican who is now running for governor. "He was bigger than life in a lot of ways, and I know he'll be missed."
Despite the urging of the Republican Party, Mr. Snyder decided not to run for a 12th term in 1986. He endorsed Bunning, who won in 1986 and held the seat for 12 years before moving on to the Senate.
Mr. Snyder described himself as a poor boy from "the other side of the tracks in a cold-water flat" in Louisville's West End, but at the time of his retirement from Congress he was the richest member of Kentucky's congressional delegation, with assets of $1.6 million, according to a financial disclosure form. He earned part of his fortune as a broker of coal and real estate to electric power companies.
An expressway and the federal courthouse in Louisville are named for Mr. Snyder.