U.S. Rep. Bill Young, "giant in Florida politics," dies at 82

U.S. Rep. Bill Young, whose career in Congress spanned four decades, has died. He was 82.

The Florida lawmaker passed away Friday at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He was the longest-serving Republican lawmaker in Congress.

Young had been in the hospital for back surgery, where he announced to a reporter last week that he planned to retire in 2014.

On Thursday, his family released a statement saying that the Congressman’s condition had suddenly become much more serious, and he was gravely ill.

Harry Glenn, who was Young’s chief of staff, disclosed Friday evening that the lawmaker had died.

Young was revered for his bipartisanship and ability to reap hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts and grants for the Tampa Bay area’s military industry, as well as high tech and marine research.

He was respected as a gentleman Congressman willing to form alliances and bridge differences in an increasingly divided Congress.

Young’s biography reads like the quintessential American story. Born in Pennsylvania, his family was quite poor and lived in a shack. One day, a bad storm and floodwaters washed their home away. His father abandoned Young and his mother when he was 6 years old.

When he was 16, his mother moved the family to Florida, where they lived at an uncle’s hunting camp. Young was forced to drop out of St. Petersburg High School when his mother became ill. He also suffered a gunshot wound in a hunting accident.

By 18, Young had joined the Army National Guard, which gave his life a focus and discipline that he had not experienced previously. It helped to shape his views and loyalty to the military for years to come. He spent nine years in the National Guard, from 1948-1957.

In 1960, Young was elected as the only Republican in the Florida Senate. He was 29. Within five years, he was Minority Leader. A decade later he ran for Congress for the first time, in what is now Florida’s 10th District. He won, and never lost re-election. He served for 43 years.

He chaired the House Committee on Appropriations, from 1999-2005, and its Subcommittee on Defense.

Gov. Rick Scott said in a written statement, "Ann and I join all Floridians as we mourn the passing of Representative Bill Young. As Florida's longest serving member of Congress, Bill will be remembered as a true statesman and champion for the Tampa Bay area."

Former Gov. Charlie Crist said "he was an absolute giant in Florida politics. He was a true gentleman, kind to all."

Young is survived by his wife, Beverly Angello. He had two grown children, Billy and Patrick. He had two residences — in Woodridge Va., and Indian Shores, Florida.

A special election will be held to finish his term.

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