Tom Lantos, 1928-2008

This extremely sad news, just in:

lantos.jpgCongressman Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo, San Francisco), 80, passed away this morning due to complications from cancer at Bethesda Naval Medical Center.

Elected to office in 1980, Lantos was Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and one of the country’s leading champions of human rights. His commitment to this issue was forged when, as a young man, he lost nearly his entire family in the Holocaust.

Today he was surrounded by his wife, two daughters, and many of his 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

After being diagnosed with esophageal cancer in late December, Lantos announced on January 2 that he would not seek reelection. He said at the time, “It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and a fighter in the anti-Nazi underground could have received an education, raised a family, and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a Member of Congress. I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country.”

The only survivor of the Shoah ever elected to Congress, Tom Lantos was in his 14th term. His Democratic colleagues elected him chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in January 2007. He was also a senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

tom-and-annette.jpgThroughout his adult life Lantos sought to be a voice for human rights and civil liberties. He and Annette Lantos, his childhood sweetheart and wife of nearly 58 years were, as Lantos put it, “full partners both in Congress and in life,” and they continued their work right up to his final days. Tom Lantos was the founding co-chairman of the 24-year-old Congressional Human Rights Caucus, which Annette directed as a volunteer since its inception. He also founded the Congressional Friends of Animals Caucus.

Annette said that her husband’s life was “defined by courage, optimism, and unwavering dedication to his principles and to his family.”

The date for a public memorial service has not yet been set.

I’ll be adding testimonials from various VIPs as the day progresses, after the jump…

From House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

The passing of Tom Lantos is a profound loss for the Congress and for the nation and a terrible loss for me personally.

As the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress, Tom Lantos devoted his life to shining a bright light on dark corners of oppression. He used his chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs Committee to empower the powerless and give voice to the voiceless throughout the world. Having lived through the worst evil known to mankind, Tom Lantos translated the experience into a lifetime commitment to the fight against anti-Semitism, Holocaust education, and a commitment to the state of Israel.

Here at home, Tom Lantos championed working families and was a strong leader in protecting our planet for the future. Though his leadership was felt around the world, he always remained a fierce advocate for his constituents in San Francisco and the entire 12th District.

Because Tom lost his family in the Holocaust, his wife, Annette, his two daughters, Annette and Katrina, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren were the center of his universe. All who knew Tom knew how devoted he was to his family and to Annette, whom he adored. They worked as a team, bringing great intellect, experience and compassion to their outstanding work in public service.

My thoughts and prayers are with the entire Lantos family. I hope it is a comfort that so many people throughout the world mourn their loss and are praying for them at this sad time.

From Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo:

Tom Lantos was one of the kindest, most sincere people I have ever met. It was both an honor and a pleasure to serve the people of the Bay Area with a man of his integrity. His belief in universal human rights for every man, woman and child defined his career in Congress as well as how he lived his life. America is honored that Tom Lantos chose to be a citizen of our great democracy, and the world is a better place because he fought to make it so. His passing is a loss to the Congress, the Bay Area, and the United States, and everyone who believes in fairness and equality. My thoughts are with his wife Annette and his entire family at this very sad time.

From Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma:

For almost three decades Tom Lantos was been a passionate voice in the US Congress, and a tireless advocate for human rights around the world. Chairman Lantos’ commitment to human rights was forged by his own life’s experience, by the violence and tragedy that he saw as a young man in Hungary, and his commitment to issues such as ending the genocide in Darfur will be remembered by all those who have served with him throughout his long career in public service. The Bay Area, and the Foreign Affairs Committee, will sincerely miss his passion and dedication, and his unrelenting commitment to not only helping those in need, but making sure that respect for human rights is at the forefront of our nation’s foreign policy. My heart goes out to Annette, his partner for almost sixty years, as well as his two daughters, his grandchildren, and his great grandchildren.

From California Democratic Party chairman Art Torres:

For more than three decades, Tom Lantos served as a tireless and passionate advocate for his district, our state and our nation. As the only Holocaust survivor to ever serve in Congress, Tom Lantos fought for the noble cause of protecting human rights and civil liberties at home and around the world. All of us in California have lost a true friend; we have lost a true peacemaker who was respected and admired by many, even those that opposed us. We send our thoughts and prayers to his wife Annette, his daughters and his many family and friends.

From Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger:

Today our state mourns the loss of Congressman Tom Lantos, who led a life marked by passion, bravery and relentless dedication to promoting human rights and tolerance. Maria and I extend our deepest condolences to his family during this painful time and we will continue to pray for their comfort. We are forever indebted to Congressman Lantos for his devoted service to our nation and his example of courage that will continue to be admired by all Californians.

From Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont:

I am deeply saddened by the passing of Representative Tom Lantos, a true public servant and a passionate voice for international human rights. The only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress, Tom was always courageous and optimistic as he worked tirelessly to improve the lives of people around the world. Tom will be remembered for his many accomplishments in the international arena, but he was also a strong and effective advocate for better schools and a cleaner environment in the United States. My sympathy goes out to Tom’s wife Annette, their two daughters, and their many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

I am deeply saddened by the passing of my friend and colleague, Chairman Tom Lantos, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Annette, his family, and to his constituents.

I have had the privilege to work on the Foreign Affairs Committee with him for eight years, and I have worked very closely with Tom in the legislative process addressing the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, orphans, and vulnerable children, and the genocide in Darfur, in addition to many other issues that we both cared very passionately about. As I watched Congressman Lantos work throughout the years, it became abundantly clear to me that Tom was a master in navigating the legislative process, and I benefited greatly from his tremendous wisdom, insight and experience.

Tom was a great human being and as a survivor of the Holocaust, he condemned genocide wherever it occurred. In doing so, I will remember him as a staunch advocate for human rights throughout the world. I will deeply miss Congressman Lantos, but I know that his legacy will inspire us to work more closely together in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that we address the critical issues of our time.

From Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles:

Whether it was human rights around the world or the specific needs of a constituent in his district, Tom Lantos was an effective and compassionate representative of the people. The California State Assembly will adjourn our session on Tuesday in honor of Tom Lantos and his remarkable life and leadership.

From Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto:

The Congress and our country have lost a great champion of human rights today. For almost three decades Tom Lantos was the most eloquent voice for the voiceless here and around the world.

Tom’s life story is an American story, having survived the Holocaust and become a Member of Congress. His leadership for working families and the environment earned him the regard of his constituents and the respect of his colleagues.

My prayers are with wife Annette, their daughters Annette and Katrina, and the entire Lantos family as well as his dedicated staff.

From House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio:

Chairman Tom Lantos was a man of unshakable integrity who never wavered in his defense of freedom and human rights around the world. His life — from surviving the brutalities of the Holocaust to his three decades of distinguished service in Congress — is a remarkable testament to the triumph of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable adversity.

During his tenure in Congress, Chairman Lantos set himself apart as one of the most effective legislators in the House. I had the great privilege of working beside him in recent years on legislation to reaffirm the right of Israel to defend itself against attacks from Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist organizations seeking to destroy the state of Israel. During our work together, I found him to be compassionate, yet strong-willed; skillful, yet open-minded. Just as his family and constituents will miss him, so too will his colleagues here in Congress — on both sides of the aisle. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Annette and his entire family during this difficult time.

From California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski:

The working people of California have lost a great friend today with the passing of Congressman Tom Lantos. Rarely do we see a person of such courage and principle emerge in the public realm, prepared to fight for what is right in defense of those who have no voice. He will be sorely missed.

Without his longstanding efforts to raise the minimum wage nationally, millions of working families would not have been able to improve their lives and offer their children a better future. Without his sponsorship of critical legislation to ensure the safety of workers, many would have been injured needlessly. And without his focused attention on correcting employer abuse, many hard-working men and women would have continued to live in the shadows of fear.

Congressman Lantos loved his adopted country, and was unafraid to criticize its shortcomings when needed. He came out in strong opposition of unfair trade deals, and spoke out forcefully against the negative effects of NAFTA and other unilateral ‘free-trade’ agreements. He exhorted us all to place more importance on human lives than commerce, and cautioned us against excess.

Through his work and the example of his life, he humbled and inspired us. We are honored to have worked by his side.

From Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation President/CEO Pamela Barnes:

We join the nation and the Congress in mourning Representative Tom Lantos, who passed away this morning. Representative Lantos was a proud and tireless champion of human rights who overcame personal tragedy to become a universally respected leader who used his power on behalf of the disadvantaged and dispossessed, including people living with HIV/AIDS.

Representative Lantos did much more than represent one district in California. His vision, compassion and wisdom were a driving force behind the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which is giving hope and help to millions of people worldwide who are at risk from HIV infection and AIDS.

Those of us who knew and worked side-by-side with Representative Lantos feel a profound sense of loss. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, family, friends and colleagues.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.