Harry Reid, the longtime Democratic lawmaker who was a driving political force during the US presidencies of George W Bush and Barack Obama, died on Tuesday at his home in Nevada at the age of 82.
Reid grew up in dire poverty but climbed the political ladder to become one of the most influential US lawmakers, serving four years in the House of Representatives before a 30-year stretch in the upper chamber of Congress, capped by a tenure as Senate majority leader from 2007 to 2015.
A consummate tactician, Reid was credited as having been instrumental in ushering through Obama’s signature legislative achievements, including the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Act and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Landra Reid, the lawmaker’s wife of 62 years, confirmed his death on Tuesday, saying her husband had died “peacefully, surrounded by our family, following a courageous, four-year battle with pancreatic cancer”.
This month, the international airport in Las Vegas was renamed in Reid’s honour, but the longtime senator did not attend the ceremony.
Charles Schumer, the Democratic Senate majority leader who Reid handpicked to succeed him, paid tribute to the Nevada senator as “one of the most amazing individuals I have ever met”.
“He was tough-as-nails strong, but caring and compassionate, and always went out of his way quietly to help people who needed help,” Schumer said in a statement. “He was a boxer who came from humble origins, but he never forgot where he came from and used those boxing instincts to fearlessly fight those who were hurting the poor and the middle class.”
Born on December 2 1939, Reid grew up in the small town of Searchlight, Nevada, the third of four children. An amateur boxer in his youth, Reid met his future wife in high school, and they eloped in 1959.
He graduated from Utah State University and earned a law degree from George Washington University, before returning to Nevada to embark on a career in local politics. He was first elected to Congress in 1982.
Steve Sisolak, the Democratic governor of Nevada, called Reid a “mentor” and a “father figure”, adding: “There will never be another leader like him.”
A soft-spoken but often polarising figure, Reid was a political kingmaker in Nevada, where he invested time and energy in building a Democratic party operation that succeeded in winning several closely-fought races in recent years — including his own final bid in 2010.
Reid did not seek re-election in 2016 after sustaining serious injuries in an exercise accident that left him blind in one eye.
In a farewell speech to Congress, Reid reflected on his path from boyhood poverty to the halls of power in Washington, saying: “I didn’t make it in life because of my athletic prowess. I didn’t make it because of my good looks. I didn’t make it because I am a genius. I made it because I worked hard.”
“I tell everyone, whatever you want to try to do, make sure you work as hard as you can to try to do what you want to do,” the lawmaker added. “I believe that is a lesson for everyone.”
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