Ex-Florida Rep. Bill Lehman Passes Away

Posted March 16, 2005 at 6:30pm

Former Rep. Bill Lehman (D-Fla.), considered a strong advocate on both race and transportation issues, died Wednesday at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami. He was 91.

Throughout his tenure in Congress, which began in 1972, Lehman voted against such issues as a constitutional amendment banning flag burning and sending troops to the Persian Gulf. He also fought to aid victims of political repression in areas such as Cuba, Argentina and the Soviet Union.

Lehman remained in Congress for a decade following a jaw cancer surgery that left his speech slurred in 1983. Eight years later, the Florida Democrat suffered a stroke, and in 1992 he announced his decision to retire, citing health reasons.

Lehman, the son of candy factory owners, was born Oct. 5, 1913, in Selma, Ala. He received his bachelor’s from the University of Alabama in 1934. Three years later, he married Joan Feibelman. The couple had three children — a daughter, who died of a brain tumor 1979, and two sons.

Before entering the political arena, Lehman sold used cars for 30 years, referring to himself as “Alabama Bill” in his advertisements. He also spent time as a teacher and school board chairman prior to his election to Congress.

Lehman never allowed his Congressional duties to cause him to lose touch with his Florida district. He regularly ate breakfast at a restaurant in North Miami, and he resided in Biscayne Park, Fla., through his final days.

Although Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) came to Congress 10 years after Lehman had retired, Meek said he was “struck” by the friends Lehman had made on both sides of the aisle.

“Only three people have ever represented Florida’s 17th District in Congress: Bill Lehman in the 80’s; Carrie Meek in the 90’s and now me,” Meek said in a statement. “I will always cherish the photo of the three of us together, because Bill Lehman was my Congressman when I was just a teenager and it is such a privilege to continue his service here.”

— Jennifer Lash