BOSTON — Joseph Early Sr., a long-serving Massachusetts congressman who lost a re-election bid following a banking scandal in which he was criminally cleared, died Friday. He was 79.
The Democrat, who served in the U.S. House from 1975 to 1993, died at his Worcester home after a brief illness.
A spokesman for Early’s son, Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early Jr., confirmed the death.
Early’s political career started in 1962 with a one-vote victory in a state legislative race. He then served six terms as a state representative from 1963 to 1974.
Before Early’s political career, the Worcester native served in the Navy for two years and worked as a high school teacher. As a senior at College of the Holy Cross, Early co-captained the basketball team in 1955.
While in Congress, Early helped make the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester one of the top recipients of National Institutes of Health grants.
Following a House banking scandal, Early lost his seat in the U.S. House in 1992 to Shrewsbury Republican Peter Blute. But Early was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.
Gov. Deval Patrick said in a statement that Early’s dedication to public service and central Massachusetts residents paved the way for many public servants who came after him.
“His unwavering commitment to creating a better Commonwealth will be deeply missed by his former colleagues and constituents,” Patrick said.
Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray called Early a tenacious advocate who helped establish UMass Medical School in Worcester and secure federal money for health and science research in Massachusetts.
Early’s family said in a statement Friday that loved ones were very proud of his life’s work.
“He showed that helping people truly is a noble profession,” they said.
“He was also a regular guy,” added U.S. Rep. James McGovern, who now represents the central Massachusetts district, “a nuts and bolts politician who had the common man touch. He enjoyed sitting down one on one with people in coffee shops and listening to people’s problems and trying to solve them.
“He was a workhorse who felt his job was to improve the quality of life for people in his community.”
With reporting by The Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom