Barber B. Conable Jr., a Republican congressman for 20 years who was his party’s standard bearer on taxes, trade and Social Security, has died. He was 81.
Conable, who collapsed with a blood infection in September, died Sunday at a hospital in Sarasota, Fla., of complications from a staph infection, his family said. He had moved to Florida earlier this year from his longtime home in Alexander, N.Y., a village southwest of Rochester.
Representing a largely rural section of western New York from 1965 to 1985, Conable rose to be the senior Republican on the powerful tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee while the GOP was the minority party.
From 1986 to 1991, he was president of the World Bank, the agency that lends billions of dollars to developing nations.
Among the high points of his years in Congress were forcing through the revenue-sharing law in 1972 and the Trade Reform Act of 1974, which cleared the way for U.S. negotiations on lowering tariff barriers.
There were also bitter disappointments, none greater than the betrayal he felt during Watergate after years of loyally backing President Nixon’s policies. He later refused to answer Nixon’s letters or attend his funeral.
By the time Conable departed Congress, frustration had begun to outweigh often piecemeal victories.
“Everyone has his own time frame; for me, 20 years is long enough,” he said, announcing in February 1984 that he would not seek reelection.
The scenario was repeated during his presidency at the World Bank, although he almost doubled its capital budget and sharpened its focus on combating poverty and bolstering primary education.
His friendship with George H.W. Bush, dating to their service together in Congress in the 1960s, turned sour after Bush ascended to the presidency in 1989.
Conable announced in early 1991 that he would not seek a second five-year term on the World Bank.
“He [Bush] thought I should be supporting an American agenda; I thought I was there to help the poor people,” Conable said in an interview with Associated Press in 1998. “So I got the reputation of not being a team player, and that was the one thing George wouldn’t stand for.”
With his own standards to meet, Conable was a rare politician -- a conservative with a socially libertarian streak, a deep thinker with a pragmatic flair. Legislating was more important to him than partisanship.
It was no surprise when both parties judged him the “most respected” member of the House his final two years in office. “There never has been a better congressman,” columnist George Will wrote.
Born in Warsaw, N.Y., Conable earned his bachelor’s degree at Cornell University before joining the Marines during World War II. He fought in the battle of Iwo Jima.
After the war, he returned to Cornell for a law degree. He practiced law in Buffalo, but returned to active service in the Marines during the Korean War. He was elected to the New York state Senate in 1962.
He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Charlotte; four children, Anne, Emily, Sam and Jane; 11 grandchildren; and a brother, John.