Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks today at Former Speaker Tom Foley’s memorial service honoring his leadership as Ambassador, Speaker, and public servant to the American people. Below are the Leader’s remarks:
“Mr. President [Obama], Mr. President [Clinton], Mr. Vice President [Biden], Mr. Vice President [Mondale]. How wonderful that Speaker Foley has two Presidents, two Vice Presidents and the good wishes of President George Herbert Walker Bush that our distinguished Speaker quoted earlier. He could never probably have imagined that, when he came to the floor on the first day to make his first floor speech. He said: ‘Public service is a free gift of a free people and a challenge for all of us in public life to do what we can to make our service useful for those who have sent us here.’ Few fulfilled that charge with more courage, more conviction, more civility than he.
“I take great pride in the fact that he’s the first Speaker to hail from west of the Rocky Mountains. He brought to Congress a fresh perspective and a powerful voice that would open doors of leadership to Members who represent the diversity of our country.
“His first campaign was legendary in its civility. Before the election was even over, his opponent, Congressman Walt Horan, released a statement calling the campaign the cleanest he had ever seen in his 22 years in office. In that spirit, when Tom Foley came to Congress and as Speaker Foley, he made campaign finance reform a priority. He sent legislation to the President’s desk that would ensure that our democracy was of, by, and for the people. Unfortunately, we could not override the President’s veto, but Speaker Foley’s commitment to a just democracy and fair elections serves us as an enduring challenge to this day.
“Known for his ability to build consensus, Speaker Foley never compromised on the conviction to do right by the American people. When tragedy struck at the Fairchild Air Force Base Hospital in his district, this longtime defender of gun rights saw the need for sensible gun violence prevention laws. Speaker Foley brought that bill to the floor. He helped enact it – those bans – knowing that it would not be well received in his district. But he did what he believed, and he did it with courage.
“He matched that dedication to principle and courage with a gift for diplomacy. Nearly 20 years ago, I was privileged – I don’t know why I was on the list, but I was invited to attend a special dinner at the British Embassy to honor Speaker Foley for his leadership. As fate would have it, President Clinton, that was the day that you announced that you were going to grant a temporary visa to Gerry Adams, just a coincidence.
“Needless to say, the mood of the evening was tense. Speaker Foley, with his characteristic grace, reasoned that this step – no matter how disconcerting at the moment to them – was crucial to delivering an ever-elusive peace to Northern Ireland.
“That remarkable ability to build bridges across great divides would serve him well as Speaker and later, as U.S. Ambassador to Japan—something he took great pride in, as I know you did, Mr. Vice President. His judgment was impeccable and was respected, and many of us benefited from it. For me, in September 2008, I attended a G8 meeting of heads of Parliament, or Speakers – whatever they’re called in your particular country. All of the participants were invited to lay a wreath at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.
“I immediately called Ambassador Foley, as I called Vice President Mondale, to ask what I should do. He replied: ‘You must participate. You will be the highest ranking American official,’ up until then, ‘to lay a wreath at the memorial. You cannot say no.’ Now, that may seem easy now. But at the time, that was very strong judgment, as, again, the Vice President also gave me.
“Such is the nature of a great man who believed, above all, in the purpose of public service – it’s about respect. Diplomat, leader, Speaker, Tom Foley was the quintessential champion of the common good. He spoke for the House he led, and the country he so loved.
“In his farewell speech, I started with his opening speech, in his farewell speech to the House he said: ‘Congress is the place where we come together to speak the voice of America and democracy, and it is the voice that is found to echo resoundingly throughout the world’ – throughout the world.
“Heather, I hope that it is a comfort to you that so many people mourn your loss throughout the world and are praying for you at this sad time. To you Heather and to the Foley family, thank you for sharing Tom with a grateful nation. His voice will forever echo in the hearts of all who strive to make a difference through public service. As we count our blessings as a nation, we know that God truly blessed America with the life and leadership of Speaker, Ambassador, and leader, Tom Foley.”