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Longtime S.C. congressman Floyd Spence dies



JACKSON, Mississippi (CNN) -- Sixteen-term South Carolina congressman Floyd Spence died Thursday, a week after surgery to remove a blood clot from the surface of his brain, a member of his congressional staff told CNN.

Spence was 73.

"Congressman Spence passed away at 5:40 p.m. Central time with his family by his side," said a statement read to CNN by a member of Spence's staff in his Washington, D.C., office. "His body will be taken to South Carolina on Friday accompanied by his family."

Spence, a Republican former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, died at St. Dominic-Jackson Memorial Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi, his office said. He had undergone surgery there August 9 to remove a blood clot from his brain, and his condition deteriorated after the procedure.

President Bush said in a statement he was "deeply saddened" by Spence's death.

"He was a leader of great courage and determination, especially since his double-lung transplant surgery 13 years ago," the president said. "As a congressman, he will be remembered as a true friend of the men and women in our armed services and a steadfast servant of his fellow South Carolinians. Laura and I send our prayers to his wife Debbie and Floyd's children and grandchildren."

The congressman also received a kidney transplant in 2000.

Spence was diagnosed several months ago with Bell's palsy, a facial nerve disorder. He was first admitted to the hospital July 24 to be treated for facial nerve pain.

"This is the saddest news that anyone can remember in a long, long time," Henry McMaster, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, told The Associated Press after Spence took a turn for the worse. "Everybody likes Floyd Spence. For him to be suffering is a very sad thing for all of us."

A native of the state capital Columbia, Spence began his career in public office as a Democrat by winning a seat in the state House of Representatives in 1956. He served six years in that office, switching to the Republican Party in 1962 and narrowly losing to a Democratic challenger. He returned to the Legislature in 1966 by winning a state Senate seat.

Spence had represented South Carolina's 2nd Congressional District since the 1970 elections, making him one of the longest-serving Republicans in the House of Representatives.

Spence was a longtime Pentagon booster from a state that benefited greatly from military spending. He supported the Reagan administration military buildup and opposed the size of post-Cold War defense cuts made during the Clinton administration.

His district stretches from the suburbs of Columbia along the Savannah River to the coastal area around Hilton Head Island. The district is now solidly Republican, with President Bush winning 58 percent of the vote in last year's balloting.

Spence served as chairman of the House National Security Committee from 1995-1999 and as chairman of the Armed Services Committee from 1991-2001. In the 107th Congress, which opened in January, he served on the Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees.

Spence served more than 40 years in the Navy reserve. He graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1952 and earned a law degree there in 1956.







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