WORCESTER — Former US Representative Joseph D. Early died this morning, surrounded by his family. The Worcester Democrat served in Congress from 1975 to 1993. He was 79.
His death was confirmed by Timothy Connolly, a spokesman for the late congressman’s son, Joseph D. Early Jr., the Worcester district attorney.
This afternoon, the Early family released the following statement: “We’d like to thank all the people who have reached out to express their condolences at this time. We are very proud of our father’s life work. He showed that helping people truly is a noble profession.’’
Before being elected to Congress, Mr. Early served six terms in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, from 1963 to 1974.
A US Navy veteran, Mr. Early started his career as a high school teacher in Spencer and Shrewsbury. He lost his seat in the U.S. House in 1992 to Peter I. Blute, a Shrewsbury Republican, after a House banking scandal.
Mr. Early was cleared of criminal wrongdoing four days before the 1992 election.
US Representative James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, who defeated Mr. Blute in 1996, spoke fondly of Mr. Early today.
“Joe Early was an incredible public servant who fought tirelessly for working people. From championing economic development to his tireless advocacy for medical research, Joe Early was a man who truly made a difference,’’ Mr. McGovern said in a statement. “Our community, our commonwealth and our country are better because of him.’’
The late congressman was known for his constituent service and as a state legislator pushed to locate UMass Medical School in Worcester.
Mr. Early was a guard on the College of the Holy Cross basketball teams in the 1950s, playing on the squad that won the National Invitational Tournament in 1954. He was team captain.
Bob Cousy, the Celtics and Holy Cross basketball great, was a friend of the late congressman, although Mr. Cousy played on the school’s basketball team five or six years before Mr. Early.
In an interview today, Mr. Cousy, a Worcester resident, recalled Mr. Early and a group of other Holy Cross alumni helping raise money to pay off the mortgage of Frank Oftring, a former Holy Cross basketball teammate who had died. The congressman allowed Mr. Cousy and the others to use his office to call fellow graduates.
“He helped people; that’s all he ever did,’’ said Mr. Cousy. “He was a man of the people.’’
Details of the cause of Mr. Early’s death were not immediately available. In 2000, at 67, he suffered a stroke as Joseph D. Early Jr. campaigned for a state Senate seat.
Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray, a former Worcester mayor, issued a statement upon learning of Mr. Early’s death: “My thoughts and prayers are with the Early family as we mourn the loss of former Massachusetts Congressman Joe Early. Joe was a tenacious advocate for both central Massachusetts and the Commonwealth, first serving in the state legislature then in the U.S. Congress. From his leadership in establishing UMass Medical School in Worcester to securing federal NIH funding to benefit health and science research in Massachusetts, today the Commonwealth continues to build on his successes and his legacy will never be forgotten.’’