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Roybal, Hispanic Pioneer In Congress, Dies at 89

Edward Roybal (D), the co-founder of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a member of California’s House delegation for 30 years, died Monday evening at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Calif.

Roybal, 89, succumbed to respiratory failure complicated by pneumonia.

His daughter, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), is an officer in the CHC who has represented part of her father’s former district since his retirement.

Friends and admirers on Capitol Hill praised their late colleague for a life spent defending the rights of minorities, senior citizens and the poor. On Tuesday, House Democratic leaders and Caucus officers called attention to his many accomplishments during his three decades in Congress.

Roybal “was a true leader and a patriot,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), said who succeeded Roybal as chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Treasury, Postal Service and general government. “He was a trailblazer and a visionary who fought discrimination wherever he encountered it. [He] was a tireless advocate for education, civil rights and health programs.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who served with Roybal on the House Appropriations Committee, recalled seeing “first-hand what an outstanding advocate, yet humble public servant, he was.”

“He was there,” Pelosi added, “when others in Washington turned their backs on seniors, the disadvantaged and the poor.”

Throughout his career, Roybal sought to encourage more widespread Latino participation in political life. His brainchild, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, came into being in 1976 and eventually evolved into one of the nation’s premier Latino civic organizations.

NALEO President John Bueno said Roybal’s “vision of more Latinos serving in elected office transformed the political landscape of this country. The fact that today there are more than 6,000 Latinos serving in elected and appointed offices in all levels of government is a testament to the life’s work of this extraordinary leader.”

Every year, NALEO recognizes an outstanding public servant with an award bearing Roybal’s name.

Among those inspired by Roybal’s pioneering spirit was Rep. Grace Napolitano (D- Calif.), current chairwoman of the CHC.

“Congressman Roybal was not only a trailblazer in developing Latino politics,” Napolitano said. “He was a caring, extremely honest and much loved servant of the people. We, the Latino electeds, owe him greatly.”

Health care policy was a passion of Roybal’s. Throughout his career he championed mental health awareness programs, higher funding for AIDS research and provisions for the long-term health care needs of senior citizens.

Born on Feb. 10, 1916, in Albuquerque, N.M., Roybal’s career in public service began in earnest in 1947 when, in an effort to rally the city’s Mexican-American population against discrimination in housing, employment and education, he founded the Los Angeles Community Service Organization.

Two years later, Roybal rode a wave of enthusiasm in the Latino community to win a spot on the Los Angeles City Council, where he became the first Hispanic city councilmember to serve since 1881. He would remain on the council for 13 years.

Elected to the House in 1963 — the first-ever Mexican-American to win a House seat from California — Roybal was appointed to the Appropriations Committee in 1971 and remained in this post until his retirement in 1993. He became chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Treasury, Postal Service and general government in 1981, and from 1985 to 1993 he also chaired the Aging Committee.

After his retirement from Congress, Roybal garnered numerous awards for his advocacy work in the areas of public health and education.

In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention bestowed upon Roybal its Champion of Prevention Award and named its main campus in Atlanta in his honor. In 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded Roybal the Presidential Citizens Medal for “exemplary deeds of service for our nation.” And in 2004, the Mexican-American Political Association recognized Roybal as a “Latino Legend of the 20th Century.”

Roybal is survived by his wife and three children.