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Henry J. Hyde, 83; Forceful GOP House Member

As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) spoke at a news conference in 1998 before impeachment hearings began against President Bill Clinton, which he called
As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) spoke at a news conference in 1998 before impeachment hearings began against President Bill Clinton, which he called "this melancholy procedure." (By Ray Lustig -- The Washington Post)

Henry John Hyde was born in Chicago on April 18, 1924. His father worked for the city emptying pay-phone coin boxes. The Hydes lived in suburban Evanston, but the Depression cost them their house. They moved to the city, where they lived in an apartment over a saloon.

Mr. Hyde first came to Washington on a Georgetown basketball scholarship but dropped out after his freshman year to join the Navy. Commissioned an ensign in 1944, he served on amphibious ships in the South Pacific, New Guinea and the Lingayen Gulf.

He returned to Georgetown after the war and received an undergraduate degree in 1947. He earned a law degree at Loyola University in Chicago in 1949.

Although Mr. Hyde had grown up in a Democratic household and voted for Harry Truman in 1948, he switched parties after becoming a trial lawyer in Chicago.

"I became concerned that communism was a serious threat," he told The Post years later. "I became worried that my government had a blind spot as to the Soviet Union's intentions. I was worried that Mr. Roosevelt was too cozy with this guy Stalin."

He voted for Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and officially became a Republican in 1958.

Elected to the Illinois House in 1967, he encountered what would become his signature issue when a colleague asked him to cosponsor an abortion rights law in 1968. Despite his Irish-Catholic upbringing, he told The Post he had never given much thought to the issue. Once he began reading on the matter, he realized he had to oppose it.

He first ran for Congress in 1962 "as a lark," but lost a close race. Elected in 1974, he joined a Congress controlled by Democrats and quickly made a national name for himself as an impassioned abortion foe.

The contentious issue wasn't the only one that occupied Mr. Hyde's legislative talents. During congressional hearings on the Iran-Contra scandal, he was one of the most outspoken public defenders of the Reagan White House and the man at the center of the scandal, then-Lt. Col. Oliver North.

Mr. Hyde experienced a brush with scandal a few years later. He was one of 12 former directors and officers of an Illinois savings and loan business who were sued by federal regulators for gross negligence after the 1990 failure of the institution, which cost taxpayers an estimated $68 million. Mr. Hyde, who left the business in 1984, said he had not engaged in any wrongdoing and was the only director who refused to contribute to an $850,000 settlement that led to the lawsuit's dismissal in 1997.

His influence remained undiminished. He was a House leader in the passage of most of the elements of the Republican leadership's Contract with America, pushed by House Speaker Newt Gingrich after the party took control of Congress in 1994.

Despite his adherence to deeply conservative principles, he wasn't always a predictable GOP voter. He argued forcefully against term limits, one of the key elements of the Contract with America. He called them "the dumbing down of democracy."


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