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Memories remain in D.C. office of Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who privately dealt with cancer

WASHINGTON — The sign outside the office reads with sterile precision: "Office of the 13th Congressional District of Florida."

The walls inside are bare, outlines of picture frames visible against paint muted by light and time.

Three weeks after U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young died, his presence is similarly fading in Room 2407 of the Rayburn House Office Building, a warren of influence the Pinellas County Republican occupied for more than a quarter century.

"I can't go in there," Beverly Young, his widow, said in an interview Friday, alternately sad and angry as she described showing up to see the name removed from outside, the paper shredders and the big gray trash bins. "They are really cold and callous. It was like he didn't exist," she said.

Mrs. Young revealed more about the circumstances of her husband's death. He was hospitalized last month after falling in the bathroom of their rented home in Arlington, Va. "He was walking with his walker and felt a little dizzy and fell backwards and he broke his hip and fractured his pelvis."

She thinks the injuries caused a blood clot that led to Young's death when he declined to undergo risky surgery. Young, 82, needed a walker because of back troubles that had grown increasingly painful. He was first injured in a 1970 plane crash — he kept a piece of debris in his office — and had surgery in 2010, then was dropped in a military hospital, adding to his woes.

Young also had blood cancer, his wife said.

Five years ago he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells found in bone marrow. Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 Democratic vice presidential nominee, died of complications from the disease in 2011. Young had chemotherapy and the situation stabilized, Mrs. Young said.

That timing means he twice ran for re-election without disclosing his cancer.

"He wanted to continue to do his job," Mrs. Young said, insisting it did not affect him and that her husband was prepared to reveal it if it did.

The cancer did complicate repairing the broken hip, because his bones could not support a medical pin, she said.

"It was the hip fracture that caused the blood clot," she said. "That fall killed my husband."

There are stories in the silence of the old office.

The giant window behind his desk provides an unobstructed view of the Capitol, which on a recent afternoon was awash in the red-orange of a fall sunset. Seniority got Young here — he was first elected in 1970.

"He said it was like a portrait, something that didn't look real," Mrs. Young said. "He was real proud of how hard he worked to get where he was. When he swung that seat around and looked out, it was just a sense of pride."

When Young got the office in 1985, a big crowd from Pinellas County excitedly gathered to watch President Ronald Reagan's second inauguration from that window. But it was so cold that year, the ceremony was moved indoors.

In the office, generals and CEOs and White House officials sat in bulky blue chairs and kissed up to the chairman of the appropriations committee, and later defense appropriations. Behind them, just below a clock, hung a picture that reminded Young of humble roots:

The one-room shack he lived in as a boy in Pennsylvania.

Most of the family photos have been boxed up, but a wall is still lined with models of military aircraft Young helped provide funding for. He flew in many of them, and those photos are still here.

His desk drawers have been cleaned of the "challenge coins" military officials gave him but the Bible still sits on top, nestled among the directory for the 112th Congress, a history of the U.S. Supreme Court and a book named Yesterday's St. Petersburg. Nearby are blank notecards embossed with the Great Seal of the United States and blue print that reads:

C.W. Bill Young

United States Congress

Washington, D.C.

The shredders are here for the constituent letters and other documents with personal information on them.

But the appropriations documents and drafts of bills — including one creating the National Marrow Donor Program — are being saved and will be given to St. Petersburg College in Seminole, where Young's district office operated.

As in Washington, staffers there answer the phone, "13th Congressional District of Florida," as instructed by House administrators.

There is resentment of the impersonal nature of it, and tears, but also work. The staffers are taking calls from constituents, helping with Social Security, veterans disability claims and immigration issues.

They will remain in place until a special election is held, in March, to fill the rest of Young's term. The victor will get this Washington office, but a more senior member will get it in the next Congress. (The next most senior member is Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., but he would have to want to move.)

Alex Leary can be reached at leary@tampabay.com.

Memories remain in D.C. office of Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who privately dealt with cancer 11/08/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 8, 2013 10:27pm]
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