Alaska Rep. Donald Edwin Young, the House’s longest-serving member, died on his way home from work at the age of 88 years on Friday night at Los Angeles International Airport.
Young, a California native, had been a member of Congress since 1973 when he won a special election.
“It is with heavy hearts and deep grief that we report Congressman Don Young, the Dean of the House and a revered champion for Alaska, passed away today while traveling back to Alaska to be with the state and people he loved,” Young’s office said in a statement. “He was surrounded by his adoring wife Ann.”
Young died as he was prepared to run for re-election to a 26th term in Congress. The blunt-speaking legislator served on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee, both of which he headed at different times throughout his career.
He leaves behind two children along with his wife Anne Garland Walton.
In the following days, Young’s office said they “will be providing additional details regarding plans for a celebration of his life and legacy.”
According to the Anchorage Daily News, Young’s chief of staff, Jack Ferguson, said, “He was vibrant, he had a lot of energy, he’s extremely clear of mind, spoke clearly about what he wanted to do, set goals that he wanted to make happen, and was thrilled to be running.”
Young was elected in a special election to replace the late Rep. Nick Begich, D-Alaska, who was the father of former Senator Mark Begich, D-Alaska. The father of late journalist Cokie Roberts, House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, D-La., died in the same plane crash as the elder Begich.
He was the House’s dean, the most senior member of any party, and the last active House member elected during the 1970s.
Young also worked as a trapper and a tugboat skipper. On the House floor during a debate, he famously held a walrus pubic bone. Before becoming speaker, Young also drew a knife and held it at the throat of then U.S. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio.