Foley Remembered as Man With ‘Charm’, Knew to ‘Do the Right Thing’

By Paige Browning

The Catholic holiday All Saints Day was a special one in Spokane Friday. A crowd of about 800 people remembered Spokane native and former U.S. House speaker Tom Foley.

Saint Aloysius Church in Spokane was full of Tom Foley’s family, former and current elected officials, and hundreds of his local supporters. Between stories from about a dozen people at the memorial, it seems there are not enough words to describe the man who was the first US Speaker of the House from west of the Rocky Mountains.

But the resounding legacy of Tom Foley is his charm, his dedication to bipartisanship, and that he loved people. The church fell silent to hear from one unexpected speaker.
Heather Foley: “I want to say a few words about my husband…”

Heather Foley attributes her husband’s personality to lessons from his father, his mother, and his Jesuit education. She says he taught her a lot, but after almost 45 years together, she still wonders how he knew so many things.

Heather Foley: “I never really knew exactly how he knew to do the right thing, to say the right thing, and to be the kindest of all men. Perhaps it was his honesty, his principals, and his resolve to keep his word. I still don’t know.”
Other speakers told stories like how Foley got the U.S. House to unanimously approve Spokane as the site of the 1974 World’s Fair; how he liked to fly and once had to emergency land in a wheat field; and how he remembered even the smallest details about people. Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who served with Foley on the US House, praised his strong backbone for democracy. And he shared humor about Foley’s legacy in health care and with the people of Washington state.
Inslee: “When a farmer up in the Okanogan asked me what kind of Congressman I was, and I said ‘well I do my best’. And he said, ‘well I’ll tell you what, Thomas Foley got me these teeth’, and he popped his teeth out. And he said now that’s a real congressman!”
According to his friends and family, Foley loved classical music and playing poker with friends. Spokane attorney Steve Lamberson says Foley encourages him to go to law school. He worked on Foley’s staff and remembers his wide interests.
Lamberson: “He remembered everybody, had a great memory for names, places and events. He loved history, loved to talk about history. He loved, interestingly, he loved far eastern art and his offices were full of it.”
At the memorial, the words decency, charm, and statesman were uttered more than once. Speakers included the governor, Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, congressmember Cathy McMorris Rodgers, former U.S. Representative Norm Dicks, and two members of the Foley family. Heather Foley got the last word.

Heather Foley: “How lucky I was to be there to see him and help him along the way. I’m afraid I’ve kept you too long. Thank you so much for coming to salute the life of a great, great man.”

Former U.S. Speaker of the House Tom Foley died October 18th after suffering a series of strokes. He was 84.

Protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church threatened days before the memorial that they would show up at the church, but none were present at Foley’s All Saints Day memorial.

Copyright 2013 Spokane Public Radio
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