Former U.S. Congressman Jim Oberstar dies at 79, lawmakers honor his memory

By KBJR News 1

May 3, 2014 Updated May 3, 2014 at 7:17 PM CST

Washington, D.C. (NNCNOW.com) - Former U.S. Representative Jim Oberstar, who represented Minnesota's Eighth District for over three decades, has died at the age of 79.

Family and friends say the former Democratic Congressman passed away in his sleep Friday night, in his Maryland home.

Oberstar held the 8th District seat from 1975 to 2011.

His family released a statement this morning:

“We are heartbroken to share the news that Jim Oberstar has passed way. Jim was a loving husband, father, grandfather, friend and brother. While we mourn the loss of a good man, we also celebrate his life and his service. We ask for your thoughts and prayers, and understanding, at this very difficult time.”

Many people are shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of the former U.S representative, and none so shocked as colleague and friend, Congressmen Rick Nolan.

"Mary and I were just with Jim two days ago, Jim was full of life and good health and I put my hand on his shoulder and I said to the other couple with us, 'if you want to grab a hold of a strong healthy man's shoulder, grab a hold of this shoulder, Jim does 100,000 push–ups a day,'" laughed Rep. Nolan, "he kind of laughed and said 'only 100.'"

Oberstar devoted 36 years to politics in Minnesota and was a friend and mentor to many, including Duluth Mayor Don Ness who got his start in politics by working on Oberstar's campaign.

"The Congressman was looking for a campaign manager, and even though I was only 23 years old with not a lot of practical political experience, he took a chance on me," reflected Mayor Ness Saturday.

Oberstar was known for his work in improving America's infrastructure and how well he was able to work with people across the political spectrum, which he has been praised for.

"Jim Oberstar walked on to the floor of the house as a former member and got a standing ovation," said Rep. Nolan, "I have never seen anyone get an ovation just walking into in the House of Representatives."

Some of his staffers also remember that even after a tough meeting or a long day, he would always check in with his family.

"That's how I remember Jim," said former Oberstar staffer David Boe Saturday, "the husband, the father, and, of course, the Congressmen, but also the boss... like I said, best boss in the whole world."

Oberstar is survived by his wife Jean, six children, and eight grandchildren.

With Oberstar's extensive history both in the state's and the nation's politics, many former and current lawmakers had something to say about his passing.

Governor Mark Dayton, Lieutenant Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon, and former Wisconsin Congressman Dave Obey were just a few among those who expressed their sadness at Oberstar's death.

President Barak Obama also gave his condolences, saying:

"Jim cared deeply about the people of Minnesota, and his devotion to improving America's infrastructure, creating opportunity for hardworking Minnesotans, and building a strong economy for future generations of Americans will never be forgotten."

U.S Senator Amy Klobuchar, a good friend of Oberstar, also released the following statement:

“Jim Oberstar was a mentor and a friend and a man of true purpose and grit. His purpose? To make life better for the people of northern Minnesota and our world. His method? Knowing all the facts and never giving up just like the people he represented."

The leader of the Minnesota DFL Party, Ken Martin, tweeted this morning:

"On behalf of the DFL Party we send our thoughts and prayers to the family of Rep. Jim Oberstar. We have lost a true Minnesota legend."

During his political career, Oberstar, nicknamed "Mr. Transportation," chaired the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in 2006 and was influential in aviation and aviation safety.

The former U.S. Representative held the longest number of Congressional terms in Minnesota history.

NNCNOW.com Staff
producer@kbjr.com