U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, the longest-serving Republican in Congress and a legislator who consistently brought federal dollars to the Tampa Bay area and his home district of Pinellas County, died Friday evening from complications related to a chronic injury. He was 82.
Mr. Young served with eight U.S. presidents over parts of five decades. He leaves behind a stunning volume of legislative accomplishment in which he tapped federal funds to improve science and public health, military readiness, the beaches, transportation and access to drinking water.
The marine science complex at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and the currently closed Tampa Bay Water Reservoir bear his name.
In recent years, the senior statesman and longest-serving Floridian in Congress had become less enchanted with Washington's ongoing partisan divide. He was also complaining of a nagging back injury, the result of a 1970 plane crash, and was seen walking on the House floor with a cane or being pushed in a wheelchair.
On Oct. 9, Mr. Young announced plans to step down after nearly 53 years of service when his 22nd term ended in 2014.
"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," said House Speaker John Boehner. "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. There was a good reason for this. Here was a man who had seen it all and accomplished much. 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. I will miss Bill, as will countless others blessed by his life and service."
As chairman of the House Appropriations Committee from 1995 to 2005, Mr. Young worked a diverse army of contacts to change the local landscape. The VA Medical Center at Bay Pines is the result of his handiwork, not to mention the vast improvements to a stretch of U.S. 19, beach renourishment and opposition to offshore drilling, positions near and dear to the Indian Shores Republican.
Before and after that chairmanship, Mr. Young led the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Spending. He is credited with saving MacDill Air Force Base from closing in 1991 and for securing the federal funds for U.S. Central Command's new $75 million headquarters there.
The sweep of Mr. Young's influence can be measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars he managed to earmark for Pinellas County and Florida. In 2010 alone, the last year before earmarks were banned, Mr. Young single-handedly secured nearly $87 million for a variety of projects, many of them designed for high-tech counterterrorism and defense.
A longtime advocate for biomedical research, Mr. Young led successful efforts to immunize preschoolers, improve public health programs nationwide and search for cures for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.
Another effort aimed at leukemia and other blood diseases, the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program, had by 2012 attracted nearly 10 million bone marrow donors in a national registry.
His reputation for responsiveness and bringing home the bacon won Mr. Young a dependable slice of normally Democratic voters in every election.
"Everyone felt that Bill Young had done them a favor," said Karen Moffitt, a Democrat who lost to Mr. Young in 1992 with 43 percent of the vote. "Everywhere I went they said, 'Well, you know, Bill Young did me a favor.'"
Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch said his father, former St. Petersburg City Council member David Welch, worked closely with Mr. Young on important issues. David Welch, who died last month, told his son to break party lines when it came to Mr. Young.
"When I first started voting as an 18-year-old, my family voted for Democrats. But my father told me, 'You vote for Bill Young. He's a good man. He looks out for everybody in the district.' I found that to be true as an elected official later on," Welch said.
C.W. Bill Young was born Dec. 16, 1930, in Harmarville, Pa., when it was a coal mining town. He grew up in a tool shed converted to a small house on the banks of the Allegheny River.
Long after that shed washed away in a flood, Mr. Young kept a photo of his childhood home in his office in Washington, D.C., a hedge against getting a big head.
"Every time I think, 'Hey, I'm something special,' I glance at that little house," he said when he was confirmed as the Appropriations chairman.
A high-school dropout, Mr. Young moved to the St. Petersburg area in 1945. He served in the Florida National Guard from 1948 to 1957, and was honorably discharged as a master sergeant.
Mr. Young ran his own insurance agency. He and his first wife, the former Marian Ford, lived in Seminole. From 1957 to 1960, he served as an aide to Rep. William C. Cramer, a Republican who would become a key ally.
In 1960, at age 29, Mr. Young became the only Republican in the Democrat-controlled Florida Senate.
From 1962 to 1964, he sat on the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, better known as the Johns Committee, one of the few sour notes in what has often been heralded as a sterling legislative career. The committee targeted people it suspected of homosexuality or communism, particularly in state universities and the NAACP. In a 1993 interview with the Times, Mr. Young said he recalled little of the committee or its meetings.
As for gay and lesbian orientation, which he had in 1964 described as "a very repulsive act," his position had softened.
"That's the decision of the people who are involved in it," Mr. Young said. "If someone wants to engage in that sort of behavior, that's their choice."
Mr. Young was a clear up-and-comer in the 1960s, winning awards from his colleagues and tapped as an "outstanding young man in America" by the national Jaycees.
He joined forces with Cramer, his mentor, and Jack Insco, a Cramer aide, to increase Republican influence. "ICY," an acronym formed by the first letters of the last names of each man, proved a powerful triumvirate in Pinellas County, backing at least four of seven School Board members and four of five county commissioners.
He ran for the U.S. House in 1970, winning a vacant seat when Cramer launched a failed bid for the Senate. He was virtually unstoppable ever since, often running unopposed.
In 1985, Young divorced his wife of 36 years. He married Beverly Angello, who had worked as a secretary in his congressional office, eight days later.
Times have changed since his days heading the Appropriations Committee. Federal spending has fallen out of favor, earmarks have been banned, and the bipartisan dealing on which he built his legacy has given way to a partisan brinkmanship.
"Bill Young was one of the exemplary figures in Congress who achieved legislative consensus in a bipartisan way," Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla, said Friday. "He put the good of the country and his constituents above partisan politics and he is going to be very much missed."
This fall, Mr. Young at first backed colleagues who tied defunding the Affordable Care Act to federal spending, then withdrew that support.
"The politics should be over," he told the Times. "It's time to lead."
Researchers Carolyn Edds and Natalie Watson and staff writer Curtis Krueger contributed to this report. Contact Andrew Meacham at email@example.com or (727) 892-2248.
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Charles William Bill Young, R-Indian Shores
Born: Dec. 16, 1930, Harmarville, Pa.
Personal: Moved to Pinellas County at the age of 15. Dropped out of high school to work odd jobs and sell insurance, but he received an honorary degree from the University of South Florida.
Family: He and his wife, Beverly, married in 1985 and have three adult sons: Rob, Billy and Patrick.
52 years in public office: 10 years in the Florida Senate and 42 years in the U.S. Congress (first elected in 1970).
Military service: Nine years in the Army National Guard, and six as a reservist.
Committee power: Chairman of House Appropriations Committee, 1999-2005; chairman of House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, most recently and from 1995-1998 and from 2005-2006. Also most recently a member of Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
"For over 50 years Bill served the people of Florida, both in the state Legislature and as the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives. He 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."
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HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER
"To all those Floridians and Americans - especially his wife, Beverly, his family and friends - I extend the condolences of the whole House."
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DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL
"He will be remembered as a passionate advocate for the welfare of America's service members and military veterans. Though his loss will be felt by many, his legacy and commitment to a strong national defense will always inspire us."
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U.S. SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R-FLA.
"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."
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U.S. SEN. BILL NELSON, D-FLA.
"Bill Young was one of the exemplary figures in Congress who achieved legislative consensus in a bipartisan way. He put the good of the country and his constituents above partisan politics, and he is going to be very much missed."
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FLORIDA GOV. RICK SCOTT
"Bill will be remembered as a true statesman and champion for the Tampa Bay area."
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CHARLIE CRIST, FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR (VIA TWITTER)
"My prayers are with the family of Congressman Bill Young. He served our county, state and country with distinction."
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DON GAETZ, FLORIDA SENATE PRESIDENT
"As a young man, he took standing for your principles to a new level, literally standing by himself on the floor of the state Senate as the lone Republican voice in Tallahassee. As a member of the United States House of Representatives, Congressman Young will long be remembered for his dedication to our nation's active duty military and our veterans."
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WILL WEATHERFORD, FLORIDA HOUSE SPEAKER
"During his more than 50 years in public service that brought him to the Florida Senate and the U.S. Congress, Congressman Young always put the interests of his constituents first."
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HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER ERIC CANTOR, R-VA.
"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."
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U.S. REP. RODNEY FRELINGHUYSEN, R-N.J.
"The Congress has lost a leader. The nation has lost an experienced authority on national security. Our Armed Forces have lost a valuable partner. And whether they realize it or not, our troops and their families have lost one of the best friends they ever had in Congress."
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U.S. REP. RICH NUGENT, R-SPRING HILL
"He was always a gentleman and to so very many people, a true American hero. I sought his counsel every chance I could get. His insight on the issues before us was second to none."
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ST. PETERSBURG MAYOR BILL FOSTER
"Our country lost a national treasure; our state lost its finest representative; our city lost its biggest advocate; and me - my friend and mentor."
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TAMPA MAYOR BOB BUCKHORN
"We lost a champion who never forgot where he came from and always had Tampa Bay at the top of his agenda. He was a dedicated husband, father, and grandfather. He was also a man who served our community in more ways than one: first in uniform and later in public office. Bill Young represented what a public servant should be. Country before party, progress before partisanship, and service above self."
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FLORIDA AGRICULTURE COMMISSIONER ADAM PUTNAM
"Florida lost a statesman tonight, in every sense of the word. Bill Young rose from humble beginnings, invented the modern Republican Party in Florida, was friend and counselor to U.S. and foreign leaders, and helped shape today's military. Bill was a tireless supporter of our troops and made sure the support continued when they became veterans. He and Beverly never missed an opportunity to give comfort and support to the wounded and their families."
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CHRIS LATVALA, A PINELLAS REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE (VIA TWITTER)
"No one will ever fill Bill Young's shoes. He made our county, state and country a better place."
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ERIC EIKENBERG, EVERGLADES FOUNDATION CEO
"A powerful advocate for protecting Florida's environment, Congressman Young was a champion of restoring and protecting America's Everglades. As Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Congressman Young succeeded in winning approval for millions of dollars to invest in Everglades restoration."
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U.S. REP. HAL ROGERS, R-KY., CHAIR OF THE HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE
"Bill was a Lion of the House, a natural leader who fiercely defended this institution and who fought with everything he had to make this land a better place - not just for the people of his district, but for the nation."
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HOUSE DEMOCRATIC LEADER NANCY PELOSI
"I hope it is a comfort to his wife, Beverly - herself an advocate for our veterans - and to his three sons, how many across our country join them in mourning at this sad time."
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STATE REP. MATT GAETZ, R-FORT WALTON BEACH (VIA TWITTER)
"Florida will forever be in the debt of Congressman Bill Young. His legacy of service is eternal."
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U.S. REP. JOHN MICA, R-WINTER PARK
"While one of our military and veterans' strongest voices has been silenced, his legacy in support of American patriots will live on."