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URGENT Jacob K. Javits, Liberal Republican, Dead at 84

March 8, 1986

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Jacob K. Javits, a liberal Republican and civil rights champion who overcame the clubbiness of the U.S. Senate and became one of its most respected members, died Friday night. He was 81.

Javits, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive muscle and nerve disorder also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, died at Good Samaritan Hospital after being brought in earlier in the day, a nursing supervisor said. ..............BULLETIN....................................................

Former Sen. Jacob Javits, whose Senate career spanned more than two decades, died Friday night in a Florida hospital, a nursing supervisor said. He was 81.

Javits died at Good Samaritan Hospital Hospital in West Palm Beach, after being brought in earlier Friday suffering from breathing problems, said the supervisor.

Javits, a Republican from New York who served four terms until he was defeated in 1980, had suffered from a motor-neuron disease, a progressive muscle and nerve disorder similar to the condition that killed baseball star Lou Gehrig. ............................................................................

As his condition deteriorated, the disease hampered his physical movement but never dulled his sharp mind.

“Life does not stop with terminal illness. Only the patient stops if he doesn’t have the will to go forward with life until death overtakes him....” Javits said in 1984.

Javits represented New York in the Senate for 24 years, a record for the state. He was a minority within a minority - a Republican in a Democratic- controlled chamber, a liberal in a generally conservative party. His liberalism, his Jewish faith and a personality more arrogant than outgoing kept Javits from gaining easy acceptance from his colleagues.

“When I rose to speak in those early days, the whole chamber was absolutely still. Stil and cold,” he recalled many years later.

Javits survived those who snubbed him, growing in reputation and importance. In the early 1970s, a poll of Senate staffers named Javits the most intelligent member of the Senate and the second most effective. When he left it, he was the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, consulted frequently on world affairs by presidents of both parties.

He was born Jacob Koppel Javits on May 18, 1904, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. His father, a former rabbinical student in Austria, worked in the garment industry and as a janitor; his mother, from Palestine, sold dry goods from a pushcart.

He worked his way through New York University Law School as a bill collector and went on to become a successful attorney in practice with his older brother, Ben.

He got his first taste of politics in the 1941 mayoral campaign of another liberal Republican, Fiorello LaGuardia, then served in World War II with the Chemical Warfare Service, returning home as a lieutenant colonel to resume his practice.

His first run for public office, in 1946, was for Congress in a strongly Democratic district on the Upper West Side that included Columbia University and part of Harlem. He won the seat and held it for four terms.

The odds also were against him in his next race, for state attorney general in 1954. He faced a famous political name, Franklin Roosevelt Jr., and defeated the son of the former president, bucking a Democratic sweep.

In 1956, Javits ran for the Senate against Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr., son of another Democratic Party stalwart and a proven vote-getter in his own right. Again Javits came from behind and won.

For more than 20 years, Javits was immune from strong Democratic challenges. But in 1980, one year after he felt the first symptoms of his disease, he was unseated by a virtual unknown from his own party, Alfonse D’Amato. The conservative used what Javits described as a “ghoulish” campaign, attacking the incumbent’s health and age.

Javits frequently said he became a Republican not in spite of his liberal beliefs, but because of them.

“I joined the Republican Party because it was the reform party,” he said, adding that when he first entered politics, he associated Democrats with corrupt big-city machines and Southern racism.

Javits saw himself as the last of a line of liberal New York Republicans that began with LaGuardia and extended through Govs. Thomas Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller.

It was Rockefeller, as dean of New York Republicans, who for many years protected Javits from conservative challengers within the party. Ironically, it was also Rockefeller’s presidential ambitions that thwarted Javits’ dream of being the first Jew to win, or even to seek, the office.

“Every politician wants the gold ring,” he said late in life, and called his inability to run for president his “greatest disappointment.”

“I can’t say Nelson had any design to cut me out,” Javits said. “He just didn’t see anybody else.”

In the Senate, Javits was known for his ability to take highly complex legislation, such as a pension reform bill, and shepherd it through both houses. A natural negotiator, he had a talent for sizing up a situation and proposing a compromise acceptable to all sides.

Javits also was proud of his role in limiting the war powers of the White House, establishing the model cities program, aiding the arts and providing education to the handicapped.

He was a steadfast supporter of Israel, but spoke out against the Israeli policy of settling occupied territories when he felt that policy jeopardized peace in the Middle East.

It was Javits’ leading role in the civil rights battles of the 1950s and 1960s that brought him the enmity of the Senate’s ruling Southern clique.

“I don’t like you or your kind,” the late Sen. James Eastland, D-Miss., once said, glaring at Javits across a committee bench. In 1967, Sen. Richard Russell, D-Ga., reduced the size of the Appropriations Committee, “I think just to eliminate me,” Javits recalled.

Javits’ first marriage, to Marjorie Ringling, a Catholic and a member of the famed circus family, ended in divorce after three years, in 1936. In 1947, he married Marian Borris, 20 years younger.

She disdained Washington as “a company town,” refusing to move there. He commuted between New York and Washington, and they had three children - Joy, Joshua and Carla - while Mrs. Javits pursued her own active social life and interests in the arts.

On one occasion those interests conflicted with his, and she had to resign a lucrative public relations contract with the government of the late Shah of Iran.

After leaving the Senate, Javits worked on his paper, underwent physical therapy and accepted speaking engagements. He would appear in a wheelchair, his head resting on a thick metal collar because his neck was too weak to hold it up, a tube snaking up his chest to his throat to pump air for him because his muscles were too weak to breathe.

He told doctors at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in May that he was happy ALS hadn’t affected his mind.

“To me, keeping alive is keeping my brain in order and functioning ... This, it seems to me, is the essence of life.

“If there’s anything I can leave with you in terms of the treatment of patients with a terminal illness, it’s this: We’re all terminal. We’re going to die someday ...

“That is a great message that can perpetuate for your patients and families what is really worthwhile in life, and that is the excitement and expectation of living life in the days you’re given to live.”

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