Charles Norwood; Ga. Congressman Pushed for Patients' Bill of Rights

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Rep. Charles Whitlow Norwood Jr., 65, a Republican from Georgia who tirelessly promoted a patients' bill of rights and who sought stricter immigration policies, died Feb. 13 of cancer and lung disease at his home in Augusta.

For eight years, Rep. Norwood battled idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, undergoing a lung transplant in 2004. He then was treated for non-small cell lung cancer, often a side effect of immune-suppression drugs, his office said. Cancer was discovered in his liver shortly after he was reelected to his seventh term last year. Rep. Norwood announced last week that he was forgoing further treatment.

A colorful tobacco-chewing dentist first elected to public office during the 1994 GOP sweep of Congress, Rep. Norwood did not hesitate to stand up for his conservative principles, even if it meant criticizing his party. Last year, the plainspoken legislator called fellow Republicans who backed compromise immigration legislation "turncoats."

Warning that the nation faces a "true invasion" of illegal immigrants, he called for putting nearly 40,000 troops on the U.S.-Mexico border. He co-wrote a provision to the recent Deficit Reduction Act that bars illegal aliens from getting Medicaid.

"After years of listening to 'advocates' whine about compassion for those who intentionally break our laws for financial gain, I'm glad to see us finally showing some compassion for our own poor and sick who abide by the law," he said a year ago in a news release.

Rep. Norwood worked throughout much of his career to pass a patients' bill of rights, aimed at giving people better access to health care and greater ability to sue insurers. Over a decade, the bill passed through the House twice, but it failed after compromises needed to avoid a presidential veto caused Rep. Norwood to lose support in Congress. He reintroduced the bill before leaving Washington last week.

He criticized government intrusion into personal and business practices and was one of 33 House members who voted against renewing the Voting Rights Act last year, arguing that it discriminates against Southern states over long-past racial transgressions.

Born in Valdosta, Ga., Rep. Norwood attended public schools until going to Baylor School, what was then a military academy in Chattanooga. He was a student there when he fatally shot a close friend as the two were playing quick-draw with what they thought was an unloaded pistol. A staunch advocate for gun rights, Rep. Norwood later said the accident convinced him that the best gun control is education and training.

He graduated from Georgia Southern University and received a doctorate in dental surgery from Georgetown University in 1967, serving as president of the dental student body. He served in the Army Dental Corps, with a combat tour in Vietnam, where he was one of the first participants in an Army outreach program that delivered dentists to forward firebases, his office said. Rep. Norwood also provided some of the first field-based dental treatment of military guard dogs and assisted in non-dental trauma care in Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals. He received two Bronze Star Medals.

After his discharge, he began a private dental practice in Augusta and founded a wholesale nursery and a laboratory that manufactured dental devices.

In 1994, the relative unknown defeated Democratic incumbent Don Johnson, becoming the first Republican to represent his northeastern Georgia district since Reconstruction.

"Many of us were talking about the very things that were in the [Contract With America] before there was a contract," he told The Washington Post that year. "It gave me a title for what I was saying."

House members debating the war in Iraq yesterday briefly interrupted proceedings for a moment of silence in his honor. His seat is expected to be filled in a special election.

Survivors include his wife of 42 years, Gloria Wilkinson Norwood of Augusta; two sons, Charles Norwood and Carlton Norwood, both of Augusta; and four grandchildren.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company