Rep. Silvio O. Conte, 69, the dean of the Massachusetts delegation to the House of Representatives and one of Congress's most beloved and respected members, died Feb. 8 at the National Institutes of Health after surgery for a brain clot.
Doctors believe the cerebral bleeding stemmed from the progression of prostate cancer for which he had surgery in 1987, his office said in a statement. His death was attributed to "extensive intracerebral bleeding," Conte's office quoted doctors as saying.
After learning of the congressman's death, President Bush issued a statement saying, "For over three decades, Congressman Conte served his state and his nation with flair, skill and unmatched dedication. Silvio Conte touched our lives and the lives of many others with his humor, warmth and decency."
Mr. Conte, a liberal Republican who was often at odds with a majority of his GOP colleagues and his party's presidents, was the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee.
He was an enormously popular figure in the House, where his stentorian denunciations of pork-barrel projects and wasteful government spending were a regular feature of floor debate. An aficionado of the flamboyant gesture, Mr. Conte in 1983 donned a pig's snout and ears on the House floor to denounce colleagues who he said "have their noses right in the trough and they're slurping it up for their districts at the expense of all the taxpayers." His reputation as an opponent of pork-barrel projects did not, however, prevent him from bringing home the bacon to western Massachusetts.
In recent years, suffering from the effects of prostate cancer, he frequently traveled the halls of Congress in an electric cart. With the flags of his country, his state and the nation of Israel waving from the handlebars, he would honk his way through throngs of tourists.
In an era when the ranks of House Republicans are increasingly dominated by somewhat humorless conservatives who seem more interested in confrontation with Democrats than in influencing legislation, he was something of a throwback.
As the only Republican representative from what is arguably the nation's most liberal state, Mr. Conte frequently voted with the Democratic majority that has controlled the House for more than 35 years.
Just last month, for example, he was one of only three Republicans who voted to deny President Bush the authority to use force to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait.
However, as Congress voted to support the troops in the Persian Gulf War, he said, "At a time like this, you've got to rally behind your troops. Anything else would be dishonorable."
Mr. Conte could make or break an appropriations bill. In the early 1980s he did just that to President Reagan.
The congressman worked to include some Caribbean aid that Reagan wanted in an appropriations bill, but when Reagan vetoed the measure anyway, Mr. Conte led the override battle and got 80 Republicans to vote with him.
"I hope he learns a lesson," Mr. Conte said of Reagan. "You just don't have 435 robots here in Congress that are going to vote in lock step."
He was a champion of spending on human services and once referred to Reagan's budget director, David Stockman, as "the young slasher." He was capable of name-calling at other levels too. He referred to the Senate as "a bunch of fat cats up there raking in the bucks" and once called Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) "a cheap, irresponsible demagogue."
Mr. Conte was known for his rhymes, and last October, as Congress debated the budget and the government dismayed tourists by shutting down, he offered verse:
We're frightened by the interest groups.
We act like silly nincompoops.
We can't make cuts that cause some sting,
We cannot even do a thing.
And now we have run out of time.
And that, dear friends, is our own crime.
The government -- it has shut down,
And we're the only game in town.
Let's work to get this budget through,
And get these tourists to the zoo.
In 17 election campaigns in Massachusetts's 1st District, Mr. Conte was unopposed seven times. His first victory was over James MacGregor Burns, the Williams College professor and biographer of Franklin D. Roosevelt, after Mr. Conte promised to bring federal grants and projects to the district.
Mr. Conte was a native of Pittsfield, Mass., and a 1949 graduate of Boston College's law school. He had served in the Navy, as a Seabee in the Pacific, during World War II.
He was elected to the House in 1958 after serving for eight years in the Massachusetts state Senate.
Survivors include his wife, Corinne, and four children.
PAUL T. RUSSILLO
Paul Thomas Russillo Sr., 63, a labor economist who worked for the American Institute for Free Labor Development, the AFL-CIO organization for Latin America, died of heart ailments Feb. 5 at Suburban Hospital.
Mr. Russillo, a resident of Garrett Park, was born in Providence, R.I. He graduated from Providence College and received a master's degree in economics from Boston College. During World War II, he served in the Navy in the Pacific. He taught at colleges in Providence and Boston before moving to the Washington area in 1966.
He joined the American Institute for Free Labor Development when he came here. He was the country program director of Costa Rica and Colombia, where he resided from 1973 to 1979, and of Peru, where he resided in 1983 and 1984. He also had been acting director for Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras.
Mr. Russillo later became director of labor studies at the George Meany Center, and he was a lecturer and consultant there when he retired in 1989. He also had been director of the Education Institute in Front Royal, Va.
In 1966, while on leave from the American Institute, Mr. Russillo helped establish a junior college in the Dominican Republic in cooperation with the Ford Foundation, and in 1969 he was a consultant to the Organization of American States.
Survivors include his wife, Angela Russillo, of Garrett Park, whom he married in 1949; six children, Paul T. Russillo Jr. of Frederick, Md., Frederick M. Russillo of San Francisco, Rosanne M., Mark J. and Matthew J. Russillo, all of Garrett Park, and Michael L. Russillo of Takoma Park; his mother, Victoria Mancini of Providence; a sister, Paula Watkins, also of Providence; and five grandchilden.
JOHN R. RICHARDSON
John Robert Richardson, 78, a retired official and civil engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers, died Feb. 7 in Ellicott City at the Von Secours nursing home, where he had lived since June. He had a heart ailment.
A former Alexandria resident, he had lived in the Washington area for 48 years before moving to Ellicott City two years ago.
He joined the Corps of Engineers in 1935. Over the years, he had worked on mapping and surveying projects. He retired in 1972 from Fort Belvoir, where he had been plans and operations chief and associate technical director of the corps' topographic laboratory.
Mr. Richardson was a native of Sherman, Tex., and an Army veteran of World War II. After graduating from Texas A&M University with a civil engineering degree in 1934, he spent a short time with the Texas Highway Department before taking a civilian job with the Corps of Engineers.
He had been a member of the American Society of Photogrammetry, the Society of American Military Engineers, the Alexandria Little Theater, and Westminster Presbyterian Church in Alexandria.
Survivors include his wife, the former Claire Mebane, of Ellicott City; two daughters, Nancy Timer of Columbia and Sarah Walsh of Seoul; a brother, Thomas, and two sisters, Marie Payne and Gloy Henry, all of Texas; and eight grandchildren.