Sam Gibbons, legend of Florida politics, dies

Published On: Oct 10 2012 01:35:48 PM EDT

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

Sam Gibbons, who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day and went on to be chairman of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee during more than three decades representing the Tampa Bay area in Congress, has died.

Gibbons, who was 92, was also sometimes known as the "Father of USF," having pushed for creation of the University of South Florida when he was in the state Legislature.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Wednesday that Gibbons' son Cliff said his father died in his sleep sometime Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

Gibbons, a Democrat, was a titan of Tampa Bay area politics.  He never lost an election.

He left Congress in 1997 –- despite the urging of then-President Bill Clinton to run for another term. He had been widely seen as one of the top architects of U.S. international trade policy for a quarter of the last century, and was a major proponent of reducing trade barriers. He sponsored pretty much every major trade bill from the 1970s to the late 1990s, including the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Gibbons sat for nearly 30 years on the House Committee on Ways and Means, and in 1994 became chairman when Illinois Democrat Dan Rostenkowski was indicted and stepped down.

Gibbons had been involved in the development of Medicare in 1966 and was still around for the debate over Clinton's failed proposal to overhaul health care in the 1990s. He was also a floor manager for much of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty legislation and was the original sponsor of legislation creating the individual retirement account, or IRA.

Gibbons went against many Southern Democrats in voting for the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but he voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and similar legislation in 1968.

Before his 1962 election to Congress, Gibbons served for 10 years in the Florida Legislature, from 1952 to 1958 in the House and then four years in the Senate. In 1956, he pushed for the authorization of the new University of South Florida in Tampa, where he was born in 1920 and raised.

Sam Melville Gibbons, received undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida, and practiced law before going into the Legislature, and had a lobbying firm with his son after leaving Congress.

Gibbons was an officer in the Army's 101st Airborne Division and parachuted into Normandy during the D-Day invasion in 1944, going on to fight through Holland, France and Germany, including the Battle of the Bulge.

His wife, Martha Hanley Gibbons, died in 2003. A second wife, Betty Culbreath, survives. Other survivors include his sons Cliff, Mark and Timothy, and several grandchildren.

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