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Lobbyist Thomas Boggs Jr. dies at 73

Patton Boggs

Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., the heir to a political dynasty who helped build one of Washington’s most successful law and lobby firms, died at his home on Monday. He was 73.

Don Moorehead, a member of the global board of Squire Patton Boggs, called Monday "a very sad day for our firm."

Boggs, he said in a statement, "was a one-of-a-kind individual who pioneered the now widely imitated combination of law and public policy and played key roles in shaping the policy and political agenda for decades."

"His monument is and will remain the law firm that he built and guided into a Washington powerhouse and then into a combination that resulted in one of the world's preeminent law firms," Moorehead said. "He remains, and will remain, one of those larger than life figures who never lost his humanity.”

Known around town as “Tommy,” Boggs was at the vanguard of the lobbying industry that took hold in Washington in the latter half of the 20th century. He used his connections and know-how to help found Patton Boggs in 1966, putting his imprint on a four-year-old law firm that had been run by Jim Patton and George Blow. 

“I interviewed at most of major Washington law firms and had gotten some offers,” Boggs said in 2012. “I thought it would be more fun to join a firm that was just starting, and it turned out to be a great decision. Instead of being part of a great big law firm, we built a law firm.”

Boggs had just left the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, where he worked closely with the president.

Remembering the decision to join a five-person firm instead of a larger one, Boggs told Washingtonian, "My father thought I was crazy," adding, "but I liked the challenge of starting something new."

Patton Boggs grew rapidly over the decades, eventually taking over a sprawling complex on the edge of Georgetown in Washington that served as the firm’s international headquarters. Boggs’s own reputation as a power broker was solidified in 1979 when he helped obtain a $1.5 billion federal bailout of Chrysler Corp. 

Most recently, Boggs served as chairman emeritus at Squire Patton Boggs after his firm’s merger with the larger international law firm Squire Sanders. Boggs’s firm went through a period of turmoil before the combination, but is now in the midst of reinventing itself — a change Boggs helped facilitate.

“Everybody needs a lobbyist,” he once told Washingtonian. “Everybody needs to have their views translated in a way that policymakers can comprehend.”

Boggs was the son of the late Rep. Thomas Hale Boggs (D-La.), who went by "Hale" and wielded power as House majority leader in 1971 and 1972.

The elder Boggs and Rep. Nick Begich (D), the father of Alaska Sen. Mark BegichMark BegichTrump campaign left out of Alaska voter guide Ryan's victory trumps justice reform opponents There is great responsibility being in the minority MORE (D), disappeared in 1972 during a flight over the Alaskan wilderness. Their bodies were never found.

After the accident, Tommy's mother, Lindy Boggs, won a special election to replace her late husband in the House, holding the seat for almost two decades.

Tommy Boggs in a 2012 speech recalled how politics were part of his life from a young age.

“My older sister Barbara used to say, ‘If we go to our friends' houses, we basically see antiques and marvelous art on the walls, but come to our house and our specialty was seeing [late Speaker] Sam Rayburn (D-Texas), Jack Kennedy, [the late Vice President] Hubert Humphrey,” he said. “Politicians in this city were our collectibles.

Boggs grew up in Maryland, attending Georgetown Preparatory School, Georgetown University — during which he held a job as an elevator attendant at the Rayburn House Office Building — and, finally, Georgetown Law School.

His time in Washington afforded him a Rolodex of powerful friends, including Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyKey GOP chairman calls for 'robust review' of AT&T-Time Warner deal Dem asks for 'highest level of scrutiny' on AT&T-Time Warner deal Report: Investor visa program mainly funds wealthy areas MORE (D-Vt.), who attended law school with him.

“We oftentimes talked about those days and the friendships we had, and so many of those people are still in this town,” Leahy said on Monday. “I think of him coming down the hall, we would see each other and we’d start grinning or laughing and whoever was the client was wondering what we were laughing about.”

“It was usually something from the law school class of 30 or 40 or, this year, 50 years ago,” he said.

As a lobbyist, Leahy said, Boggs “was very, very effective” with “one unfailing attribute: He always told the truth, even if was something you didn’t want to hear.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidWarren’s power on the rise Republicans make M investment in Senate races Nevada's Heck won't say who he's backing for president MORE (D-Nev.) opened the legislative session Monday with a tribute to Boggs.

“Tom Boggs was an institution in this city,” Reid said. “Washington is a much better place because of Tommy Boggs passing through here.”

As a major player in Democratic politics, Boggs was one of the party’s most successful fundraisers, but that didn't preclude him from reaching across party lines.

When fellow lobbyist Haley Barbour made his run for Mississippi governor in 2003, Boggs was among the hosts at a Republican fundraiser for him.

“I certainly primarily support Democrats. But whenever I see a Republican who I think is very competent and very good, particularly one who's a good friend of mine, like Haley Barbour, I tend to try to help them. Mississippi's going to have one heck of a governor, in terms of a fellow that can get something done in Washington,” Boggs told CNN in 2003.

Boggs saw the rise of Washington’s advocacy industry firsthand, having gotten his start in the business at a time when, he once recalled, only about 100 people in the city identified themselves as lobbyists.

Although there was a flash in 1970 — at age 29 — when Boggs tried to follow his famous parents into politics, an unsuccessful bid for the House put him on a different path.

“The best thing that ever happened to me," Boggs told Carl Bernstein almost 30 years later, "was that I got beat when I ran for Congress.”

— This story was last updated at 5:50 p.m.