Rep. John Duncan, a 24-year congressional veteran who was the senior Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, has died at age 69 after a long battle with cancer.
Duncan died late Tuesday at St. Mary’s Medical Center here, five days after being admitted for chemotherapy, a hospital spokeswoman said.
“He had been listed in satisfactory condition up to tonight (Tuesday); his condition deteriorated this evening,” the spokeswoman said. Family members were at his side when he died.
President Reagan, in a statement issued by the White House, expressed “great sadness” at Duncan’s death, saying: “Nancy and I will miss our good friend. The nation and the people of the state of Tennessee have benefited beyond measure from his statesmanship and commitment to the national well-being.”
Duncan, who consistently won reelection by large margins, had planned to run again. But on May 27 the congressman--who suffered from cancer of the prostate and upper body--announced that he would not seek another term because of his health.
“Ever since my prostate cancer was discovered in 1980 I have considered the cancer just like any other illness,” Duncan said. “You hope and pray that it will go away so you can continue to work and enjoy life. I truly wanted to run for a 13th term.”
He had kept in touch with other Congress members who were battling cancer while continuing to work, and said those relationships helped him.
Duncan as a lawmaker was known to concentrate on technical aspects of congressional matters, often focusing on closing loopholes and polishing sloppy legislation.
In election years he sometimes came under fire for receiving large contributions from political action committees, including those representing trial lawyers, podiatrists and real estate agents.
Duncan, who was one of 10 children, served in the Army from 1942 to 1945 and received a law degree in 1948.
From then until 1956 he was an assistant state attorney general. In 1959, he was elected mayor of Knoxville, serving until elected to Congress in 1964.
He became the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee after his 1984 reelection.