Senior U.S. House Republican Bill Young was being remembered as a defense hawk, with a passion for looking after the needs of men and women in uniform and those of his constituents back in Florida. Young died Friday at age 82, a week after announcing from his hospital bed that he wouldn't seek a 23rd term.
"It's only been a week since we began trying to imagine the House without Bill Young -- an impossible task in its own right -- and now he is gone," House Speaker John Boehner, said in a statement. "In our sorrow, we recall how not a day went by without a colleague seeking Bill's counsel as he sat on his perch in the corner of the House floor. Looking out for our men and women in uniform was his life's work, and no one was better at it. No one was kinder, too."
Florida was always top priority. Young brought hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks back to the Tampa Bay area in his 43 years in Congress, and built up a defense contracting industry in the region, creating jobs and stirring the economy.
"His loss is a great one for his constituents," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a statement. "For over 13 years, I considered Bill to be a dear friend and a colleague that could always be counted on to provide sage advice based on decades of experience."
First elected to the House in 1970, Young was one of the strongest supporters in Congress of defense. So he made headlines in 2012 when he said the United States should withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. Young told The Associated Press at the time that "we're killing kids who don't need to die," and reflected the growing weariness with a conflict that had dragged on for more than a decade.
Young, who had been involved in Florida politics since 1957, was considered the elder statesman of the state's Republican Party and in the U.S. House of Representatives. In recent years, Young became increasingly frail and relied on a wheelchair. He was quoted by The Tampa Tribune recently as saying that his decision to retire and not seek re-election in 2014 was based on both his health and a desire to spend more time with his family.
His chief of staff, Harry Glenn, said in an email that Young died at 6:50 p.m. at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he had been for nearly two weeks with back problems that stemmed from a 1970 small plane crash. The email included a statement from Young's family, saying relatives were with Young when he died from complications related to a chronic injury.
The congressman was a longtime member of the House Appropriations Committee, where he focused on military spending. He and his wife frequently visited ailing service members at hospitals in the Washington area.
According to the newspaper, the congressman received a call Wednesday from former President George W. Bush, who thanked Young for his support of the military.
President Barack Obama issued a statement saying Young "will be remembered for his advocacy and support for the armed forces, service members, and their families as well as his statesmanship and long history of working across the aisle to keep our country moving forward."
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a written statement, "As Florida's longest serving member of Congress, Bill will be remembered as a true statesman and champion for the Tampa Bay area."
Former Gov. Charlie Crist lives in a part of St. Petersburg that used to be in Young's district before the lines were redrawn. During his time as governor, Crist said he considered Young for a U.S. Senate appointment, though ultimately chose someone else.
"He was an absolute giant in Florida politics," Crist said. "He was a true gentleman, kind to all."
Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry said Young "always stood up for the Sunshine State and fought for the best interests of its citizens."
His counterpart, state Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant said in a statement that for more than 40 years, "Young's dedication to Florida and consistent civility has set the standard for all of Florida public servants."
Charles William Young was born in Harmarville, Pa., and later moved to Indian Shores, Fla., a small Gulf Coast community in Pinellas County.
He served in the Army National Guard from 1948 to 1957, then became an aide to U.S. Rep. William Cramer from 1957 to 1960. From 1961 to 1971, he served in the Florida Senate.
Young and his wife, Beverly, had three children.
Young's district, which encompasses almost all of densely populated Pinellas County, was already expected to be up for grabs in the 2014. His death makes it likely that Democrats will pour additional resources into the race. A special election will be held to finish his term.
Florida political leaders honor Bill Young
Gov. Rick Scott made the following statement regarding the passing of Congressman Bill Young:
"Ann and I join all Floridians as we mourn the passing of Representative Bill Young. As Florida's longest serving member of Congress, Bill will be remembered as a true statesman and champion for the Tampa Bay area. He served with eight US Presidents throughout his career, always putting the families of Florida first, and working across the aisle to find solutions.
"His work to support military families, our veterans, and his own service with the Army National Guard and as a reservist, will leave a lasting legacy. Representative Young will be missed by his constituents and our entire nation. Ann and I offer our support and prayers to his wife Beverly and his sons and grandchildren during this difficult time."
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) released the following statement regarding the death of Congressman Bill Young:
“Floridians have lost one of the greatest public servants we’ve ever had in our state’s history. For over a half century, Bill fought tirelessly for the Tampa Bay region and to strengthen Florida’s role as a critical part of our national defense. Largely because of Bill Young, many of our nation’s brave men and women in uniform have called Florida home at some point in their careers, with many of them spending their golden retirement years here. Throughout Bill’s career, our military and veterans have had no greater champion than him. My thoughts and prayers are with Bill’s wife, Beverly, and their entire family.”
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) also released a statement Friday regarding Young's death:
"Bill Young was one of the exemplary figures in Congress who achieved legislative consensus in a bipartisan way," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. "He put the good of the country and his constituents above partisan politics and he is going to be very much missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends."
U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Jacksonville) issued the following statement on the passing of Bill Young:
“It was an honor to work with Chairman Young. I’ve known him from his days in the Florida Senate. He was my mentor and my friend, and I will always be grateful for his kindness. He was dedicated to our men and women in uniform, fought hard for their needs, and the needs of all Americans. I join a long list of colleagues who will miss his leadership. His family and loved ones are in my thoughts and prayers.”
RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry issued the following statement Friday:
"I, and the Republican Party of Florida, mourn the death of Congressman Bill Young. Over five decades of public service, Bill Young has been a constant champion for his constituents and for the state of Florida. He has always stood up for the Sunshine State and fought for the best interests of its citizens. His dedication, his leadership, and his friendship will be sorely missed. His wife Beverly and his two children, Billy and Patrick, are in our thoughts and prayers today."
The Florida Federation of Young Republicans issued the following statement Friday evening:
"On October 18, 2013, America lost a public servant who has served as a Florida Congressman since 1971. Congressman Young was born on December 16, 1930 and would ultimately become the longest serving Republican Congressman in American history at the time of his passing.
"Congressman Young begin serving his country in 1948, when he joined the US Army National Guard, achieving the rank of Master Sergeant; he would serve for nine years. From 1961-1970, Congressman Young would be known as a Florida State Senator, serving as the Minority Leader his last four years. While serving in the Florida Senate, the Congressman also served as a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission for two years.
"The Congressman was first elected to Congress in 1970 and was subsequently reelected twenty times, announcing this year that he would not seek reelection in 2014. The districts from which Congressman Young has run lean Democratic, but the Congressman, in those twenty election cycles, only received less than 60% of the vote twice. The Congressman has represented three districts, due to redistricting, but represented Florida's 10th Congressional District since 1992 until 2012, when the Congressman began serving the 13th District, the seat that he held until this evening upon his passing. Congressman Young chaired the House Committee on Appropriations from 1999-2005, the only Floridian to have chaired the committee since the committee's inception in 1865.
"As if serving in the US Army National Guard, as a Florida State Senator, and a Congressman weren't enough, Congressman Young also served as a Florida delegate to the Republican National Convention four times between 1968-1984.
"Congressman Young has a special place in FFYR's history: he served as our very first Chairman. Since then he has been a great friend to the YRs, particularly in the Tampa Bay area, from which he hailed. FFYR's current Chair, Peret Pass, stated tonight, "The YRs found an irreplaceable ally in Congressman Young. He loved his country, his state, his constituents, and the YRs. He loved his family and serving people. Congressman Young will be very sorely missed by Floridians, FFYR, and the American people. On behalf of FFYR, I extend my deepest sympathies to his family, friends, and Congressional staff and pray for comfort for them in this difficult time."
"Congressman Young once told the New York Times, "In my short life I've been shot, I've been hit by a truck, survived an airplane crash, I've had my chest opened and my heart rebuilt. And it's sort of hard to get me flustered after all that." We applaud the Congressman on 82 years of a life well spent in service, in action, and in perseverance. To the Congressman's family - his wife, Beverly, and his children - we extend our prayers and thoughts. To the Congressman, we simply say: thank you, sir."