Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young (R-Fla.), an influential appropriator who had served 43 years in office, died Friday night at Walter Reed National Medical Center at the age of 82, according to his chief of staff Harry Glenn.
Young, who had been hospitalized for the past two weeks for a back injury arising from a small plane crash decades ago, announced earlier this month that he would not seek reelection. He fell gravely ill on Tuesday night, and a statement from his family said the cause of death was "complications related to a chronic injury."
With a snowy white pompadour and a courtly manner, Young was beloved by Republicans and Democrats alike. He chaired the Appropriations Committee from 1999 to 2005, and was unabashed about advocating for military spending as well as federally-funded projects in his district, which lies just west of Tampa.
A former insurance salesman who quit high school to support his ailing mother, Young's patient manner proved invaluable in a town dominated by big egos and quick tempers. In the late 1990s, discussions over the fate of the F-22 fighter plane had deteriorated to such an extent that Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was not speaking to the House's chief negotiator, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.); Young brokered peace between the two men.
The key to solving disputes like that, Young told The Post in a 1999 interview, was to "keep smiling and just talk it out."
When Republicans took over the House for the first time in four decades in 1995, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) passed over Young, who was in line to chair the House Appropriations Committee, in favor of Robert Livingston (R-La.), whom he trusted to make deep budget cuts. But Young got his chance to helm the powerful panel after both Gingrich and Livingston stepped down in the wake of the 1998 elections.
In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) remembered Young's as a mentor to many of his colleagues.
"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," Boehner said. "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."
Having served in Congress since 1971, Young has ranked as the fourth-longest serving current member and among the 25 all-time longest-serving members.
Young, who was a vocal advocate for members of the military and veterans, turned against the war in Afghanistan last year. He pushed for a withdrawal, telling the Associated Press at the time, "we’re killing kids who don’t need to die."
President Obama said in a statement, "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."
Young also championed cancer research funding, starting the National Marrow Donor Program in 1986. The program now has more than 10 million donors and has supported 50,000 transplants.
Moffitt Cancer Center president Alan List said the congressman worked to establish the National Functional Genomics Center at Moffitt, which conducts research for the Department of Defense on the genetic signatures of different types of cancer. “Congressman Young had the vision to see how biomedical research could help transform health care for military personnel and all Americans,” List said in a statement.
In explaining to the Tampa Bay Times why he decided this month to retire, Young said, "I don't know that I would pick out one thing. It's a lot of things. My family, my job, my rehabilitation from my back."
But he also said he had become increasingly disenchanted with the political polarization on Capitol Hill. "I'm a little disappointed. It seems there's too much politics. It's a different Congress," Young said.