Former U.S. Rep. Charlie Rose, 12-term N.C. congressman, dies at 73

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to The Plains as a community in Loudoun County. It is located in Fauquier County.


Rep. Charles Rose (D-N.C.) talks with reporters outside the Democratic Caucus meeting in Washington in 1994. (Ray Lustig/The Washington Post)
September 4, 2012

Former U.S. representative Charlie Rose, a North Carolina Democrat who served 12 terms in Congress, became a leading champion of tobacco interests and made an ill-fated bid for House minority leader in 1994 that led to his loss of a powerful committee post, died Sept. 3 at a hospital in Boaz, Ala. He was 73.

The death was confirmed by his wife, Stacye Hefner. She said her husband had Parkinson’s disease.

Mr. Rose, who became a ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, represented a rural Southern swath that included his birthplace of Fayetteville. With an aptitude for shrewd wheeling and dealing, he was regarded as an influential protector of tobacco interests.

Known as a moderate, he helped shape important compromises on anti-smoking legislation that reduced taxpayer money for tobacco price supports but also prevented tobacco farmers from losing emergency disaster payments. His causes also included support for Tibetan independence, and in 1991, he was elected president of the North Atlantic Assembly, an organization of legislators from NATO countries.

By the early 1990s, he also rose to chair the House Administration Committee, whose powerful fiefdom held great sway over the comfort of members’ lives. The committee controlled more than eight garages and parking lots, the office and committee budgets, a sprawling computer system that he upgraded, and 11 House restaurants.

In short, the span of his responsibilities ranged from regulations on campaign spending to the quality of produce at lunch.

“He hears the soup is bad in the kitchen, he goes in the kitchen with a spoon to find out why,” Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio). told The Washington Post in 1991. “You feel he’s on your problem — no matter what it is. And you’re grateful.”

His clout earned him the nickname “Mayor of the Capitol” and provided a launching pad to run for Speaker of the House. But when Republicans captured the majority in 1994 for the first time in more than a generation, Mr. Rose aimed for the job of minority leader.

He was not an obvious choice. Starting in the mid-1980s, Mr. Rose was shadowed by finance irregularities stemming from his misuse of $64,000 in campaign contributions for personal expenses. He maintained he used the money to cover undocumented loans he and his father contributed to his campaign.

The House Ethics Committee issued Mr. Rose a mild “letter of reproval” in 1988 but did not further discipline him. Without admitting guilt, he settled a Justice Department civil suit in 1994 charging him with failure to report more than $138,000 in personal loans from his campaign on disclosure forms.

In December 1994, Mr. Rose lost decisively to Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri in the race for minority leader. Gephardt then stripped Mr. Rose as the ranking minority member on the renamed House Oversight Committee. It was a humiliating move that contributed to Mr. Rose’s departure from the House. He declined to seek reelection in 1996.

Charles Grandison Rose III, whose father and grandfather were lawyers and North Carolina state legislators, was born in Fayetteville on Aug. 10, 1939. He was a 1961 graduate of Davidson College in North Carolina and a 1964 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill law school.

He practiced law in Raleigh and was chief district court prosecutor in Cumberland County, N.C., before winning election to the U.S. House in 1972 after an unsuccessful bid two years earlier against incumbent Rep. Alton Lennon (D).

Mr. Rose was known for a precocious interest in technology and shot his own campaign videos for TV in the 1972 race. As chairman of the House Administration Committee, he presided over the installation of television cameras in the House chamber.

At times, Mr. Rose’s personal life drew unwelcome headlines. He endured a messy divorce from his second wife, Joan Teague, who had once been an aide on a subcommittee that Mr. Rose chaired. In divorce papers, she charged that he “openly and notoriously paraded his paramour around in public, thereby creating extreme humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress” to her and the couple’s daughter.

In 1995, Mr. Rose married Stacye Hefner, the daughter of the late Rep. W.G. “Bill” Hefner (D-N.C.). They later formed a lobbying firm.

“As somebody once said, higher education is expensive, and this has been truly a higher-educating process,” Mr. Rose told a reporter around the time of his newsmaking divorce.

Besides his wife and their daughter, survivors include two children from his first wife, the former Sara Richardson; a daughter from his second marriage; a sister; and a brother. He moved to Albertville, Ala., from the Fauquier County community of The Plains about three years ago.

Adam Bernstein has spent his career putting the "post" in Washington Post, first as an obituary writer and then as editor. The American Society of Newspaper Editors recognized Bernstein’s ability to exhume “the small details and anecdotes that get at the essence of the person” and to write stories that are “complex yet stylish.”
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