Once my congressman was Tom Foley (D-WA). At the time, he also chaired the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture (1975-81). That was fortunate for me because, at the time, I was a daily newspaper reporter assigned to cover the second-largest county in Foley’s eastern Washington district. After the Land Grant university located there, the next biggest business was growing white wheat. During my time in this area, known as “The Palouse,” our paths would cross several times. Local congressmen do not usually come across at the get-go as historically significant figures, but there was something about Tom Foley. And it was not just that he was always well put together, even for someone who must have bought those three-piece suits at a “Big and Tall” shop, because he stood over almost all. He’d often be bigger than PAC-10 football players he’d be photographed with. Tom Foley was only in political trouble in his district twice: once after he became Speaker of the House, and this earlier time when he was chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture. That was when I was around, writing about agriculture and politics and watching this master of his craft. He put down back-to-back challenges from a tire dealer and a rich doctor, who both tried to take him out but failed. It was not unusual to get a call from Foley if I wrote about farm payments for conservation easements or some other technical subject falling under his committee’s jurisdiction. The call wouldn’t be from his office or some press person, but from the man himself. He was formal but pleasant, with this quick wit. At first I was too stupid to realize how fortunate I was to be able to get the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee about anytime I wanted. But then I noticed how, when Tom Foley said something about agriculture in the little daily newspaper I wrote for, it got picked up by the wire services and went most everywhere. Foley’s six-year tenure at the helm of the Committee on Agriculture would be remembered for simplifying eligibility requirements for food stamps and increasing price and income supports for grain farmers. He also increased agricultural research, extension and teaching programs. But it wasn’t talking about the Farm Bill of the time that gave me a true appreciation of Tom Foley. It was having the pleasure of being with him and a few of his friends around someone’s kitchen table when he’d finally be relaxing and telling stories after a long day. Tom Foley was a natural storyteller with a raft of material. Whether it was something from the “takeover” of the Democratic Caucus after the 1974 elections, when the post-Watergate class of Ds ousted William R. Poage of Texas as Ag chairman and installed Foley, or a story involving Washington State’s “gold dust” twins, the legendary U.S. Senators Warren Magnuson and Henry Jackson, few could match the man from Spokane. The 1980 election that swept Ronald Reagan into office also took out Magnuson, then the Senate’s longest-serving member. Foley, though, survived. In covering both campaigns, I was certain the reason Foley won and Magnuson lost was the approach they took with the media. Magnuson had slowed down, and his campaign staff thought they had to keep the press away from him. It was a mistake because Magnuson still could handle himself, like when he said that committee meetings don’t start until he gets there. Foley did not hide from anybody ever, I don’t think. In 1980, I found him constantly available to all takers. As we say today, he’d “hang” as long as anyone was asking questions. Tom Foley died on Oct. 18 at age 84 in Washington, D.C., where he had been Speaker of the House and had served as U.S. Ambassador to Japan. If he’d ever touched your life as he did mine, this was sad news. But then you would remember a story or observation Tom Foley shared, and you would find yourself smiling just a bit. Joel Connelly, the long-time political reporter for the late, great Seattle Post-Intelligencer print newspaper – who continues in that role at digital SeattlePI.com – does a great job with his longer view and greater exposure to Tom Foley. If you’ve come this far, read it, too.