Ralph Regula, an 18-term congressman from Ohio who became a prominent supporter of protecting public lands — and keeping the name of the Ohio-born President William McKinley on the continent’s highest mountain — died July 19 at his farm near Navarre, Ohio. He was 92.
A son, Richard Regula, confirmed the death but did not specify the cause.
Mr. Regula, a Republican, was elected to the House in 1972 to represent a district in northeastern Ohio and described himself as “a conservative on spending, a progressive in programs.” He maintained the same stance for 36 years in the House, serving longer than any other Republican in Ohio history.
A onetime teacher and country lawyer, Mr. Regula had a low-key approach that included making friends and winning support across the political aisle. Two of his early friends and mentors in Congress were Gerald R. Ford (R-Mich.), the minority leader who later became president, and House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr. (D-Mass.).
Mr. Regula had a moderate voting record and sometimes battled legislative initiatives of his own party, including some efforts to restrict access to abortion. He opposed legislative initiatives of Ford, President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush, while remaining on friendly terms with all of them.
“I served for 24 years as part of the minority and, therefore, learned early that achieving legislative goals required bipartisanship,” he wrote in a 2010 column in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Listening to the points of view of others, finding common ground to cooperate and making friends on the ‘other side of the aisle’ helps to achieve ultimate success.”
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a long-serving Democrat from Toledo, told the Plain Dealer that Mr. Regula was the kind of “public official who should get recognition rather than these loudmouthed, egotistical blowhards.”
Among other achievements, Mr. Regula helped steer federal spending to northeastern Ohio, which helped expand medical education in the region. He was instrumental in supporting legislation to establish Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which opened in 2000.
In the 1990s, Mr. Regula helped negotiate among various Republican and Democratic legislators and the White House of President Bill Clinton. leading to the creation of what is now the Ohio & Erie Canalway, which includes towpaths and historic sites.
He also secured funding to establish the National First Ladies’ Library, which was founded by his wife and is housed in Canton, Ohio.
For decades, Mr. Regula introduced language into appropriation bills or used procedural maneuvers to fight efforts to have Alaska’s Mount McKinley renamed Denali, which is derived from a native Alaskan term for “the high one.”
Mr. Regula held the same congressional seat once occupied by McKinley, the 25th president, who was assassinated in 1901. As a graduate of the old William McKinley School of Law in Canton, Mr. Regula did not want to see the name of his fellow Buckeye erased from the tallest peak in North America.
In 2015, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that the mountain’s name would be changed to Denali. Mr. Regula, who left Congress in 2009, criticized the move and denounced President Barack Obama as “a dictator.”
“The law says it’s Mount McKinley,” he said, “and he can’t change a law by a flick of the pen.”
Ralph Straus Regula was born Dec. 3, 1924, in Beach City, Ohio, and grew up on a family farm. He served in the Navy during World War II and graduated in 1948 from what is now the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio. A center of public service at the university is now named in honor of Mr. Regula and his wife.
While working as a teacher and school principal, he attended law school at night, graduating in 1952. He served in both houses of the Ohio legislature before he was elected to an open congressional seat in 1972. He did not seek reelection in 2008.
Survivors include his wife of 66 years, Mary Rogusky Regula, and three children, Martha Regula, David Regula and Richard Regula, all of Navarre; and four grandchildren.
Mr. Regula came to lament the increasingly shrill and unyielding tone of Capitol Hill and longed for the sense of comity and shared civic duty that he found in his early days in Congress.
“The importance of bipartisanship in achieving the goals of our nation, going back to our founding, is self-evident,” he wrote in 2010. “Inflammatory rhetoric may satisfy the partisans, but it does little or nothing to move the legislative ball to the goal line.”