Although he made his career in politics, Jim Jeffords was a modest man who disliked cameras and speeches.
In May 2001, however, the three-term senator from Vermont found himself in the spotlight when he quit the
Jeffords died Monday at a military retirement residence in
Jeffords served more than 30 years in
He decided not to run for a fourth term and retired from the Senate in 2007, citing his and his wife's health problems. His wife, Elizabeth "Liz" Daley, died that year.
In a statement, President
"Whatever the issue — whether it was protecting the environment, supporting Americans with disabilities, or whether to authorize the war in Iraq — Jim voted his principles, even if it sometimes meant taking a lonely or unpopular stance," Obama said. "Vermonters sent him to Washington to follow his conscience, and he did them proud."
Before Jeffords left the GOP, the Senate was split 50-50 between Republicans and
Jeffords' move left Senate Republicans with 49 votes. Although he declared himself an independent, he caucused with Senate Democrats, giving them effective control of the chamber.
It was a rare moment in U.S. history when one lawmaker upended the political status quo with just one vote.
"In 2001, he displayed enormous courage by leaving a party that, he often said, had left him because of its dramatic move to the right," said Sen.
"He was a Vermonter through and through, drawn to political life to make a difference for our state and nation," said Sen.
Liberal on social issues and cautious on fiscal matters, Jeffords showed his maverick streak early in his career.
He was the sole Republican House member to vote against President Reagan's tax cuts in 1981. He also voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the Brady Bill on gun control and an end to the ban on gays serving in the military.
He strongly opposed President
"I feel as if a weight has been lifted from my shoulders," Jeffords said when he announced the switch.
In 2002, Jeffords was one of 23 senators to vote against authorizing use of military force in Iraq. He also was one of only nine senators to vote against establishing the Department of Homeland Security.
James Merrill Jeffords was born in Rutland, Vt., on May 11, 1934. His father, Olin Jeffords, served as chief justice of the Vermont Supreme Court, and his mother, Marion Hausman, was a homemaker.
He attended public schools in Rutland, and received his undergraduate degree from
While practicing law in Shrewsbury, Vt., he got involved in local politics and was elected to the state Senate in 1966. As Vermont's attorney general from 1969 to 1973, he helped draft landmark environmental laws, including a ban on billboards and land protection legislation.
He and his wife were married twice, first in 1961, and then after a divorce in 1978, again in 1986. He is survived by his two children, Laura and Leonard.