Rep. Walter B. Jones, a longtime North Carolina congressman who chaired the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, died Tuesday at 79.
Jones, the dean of North Carolina's congressional delegation, died at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, where he had been hospitalized with pneumonia. He had been ill for some time and had been forced to use a wheelchair to get around congressional corridors.
He was the third member of Congress to die within the past few days. Democratic Rep. Ted Weiss of New York died Monday, while Quentin Burdick, a Democratic senator from North Dakota since 1960, died last week.
Jones, a Democrat who previously served in the North Carolina Legislature and as mayor of Farmville, was first elected to Congress in 1966. He was a relatively obscure political figure in the nation's capital until he assumed the chairmanship of the Merchant Marine panel in 1981. He relinquished that chairmanship last week after surviving a 1990 Democratic caucus vote where several other senior chairmen were ousted.
The Almanac of American Politics said Jones took "an aging and often ailing committee and pumped some life and verve into it." It cited a comprehensive bill regulating oil spills that was worked up after the Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska in March, 1989.
Under Jones' tenure, the committee also fought efforts by the Reagan Administration to cut the maritime budget and retained a close relationship with industry.
Jones' district, encompassing the Outer Banks resort area as well as tobacco-growing flatlands, has been one of the poorest and most agricultural regions of the state.
As chairman of a tobacco subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee for eight years, Jones continually pressed to maintain the tobacco price support system.