House Mourns Norwood

Posted February 13, 2007 at 6:29pm

Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.), the dentist and decorated veteran who came to Congress in 1995 to focus on health care reform and patients’ rights, died at his home in Augusta, Ga., on Tuesday after eight years spent fighting a debilitating lung disease and a subsequent battle with lung cancer.

The 65-year-old Norwood left Washington, D.C., just last week to return to Georgia, where aides said he looked forward to the comforts of home after spending months in hospital care. He was remembered by colleagues as a genuine friend who, despite illness, rallied hard for his goals and ideals.

“Charlie was my foxhole buddy,” Georgia Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R) said in a statement. “When Charlie said he was with you, you knew you would have someone at your back till the end. His loyalty and grit defined him. All of Georgia mourns our loss.”

Norwood’s funeral will take place at 2 p.m. Thursday in Augusta, Ga., and Members will be flown to and from the event on a military plane.

After Norwood’s death was announced, the home page on his Web site served as a tribute to the seven-term Member, with a summary of his illness and an extensive biography of his life.

Meanwhile, House Members briefly paused during the debate over the Iraq War resolution to mark Norwood’s death with a moment of silence, and some offered condolences before giving individual floor speeches on the resolution.

Members from both sides of the aisle released statements of condolence Tuesday afternoon, with many paying tribute to Norwood’s wife, Gloria, and his two sons.

“Charlie never stopped, ever,” Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters Tuesday. “Charlie didn’t know defeat.”

Boehner recalled that Norwood was one of the most vocal supporters of a Patients’ Bill of Rights and while Boehner opposed him on the issue, he said Norwood was “nothing short of dogged” when he believed in a piece of legislation.

Fellow Georgia Rep. Jim Marshall (D) said Norwood had made a “great difference in many lives.”

“Charlie struggled with his health for years, but he never let it keep him down,” Marshall said. “He stayed focused on his Congressional duties until he simply couldn’t any longer.”

Added Georgia Rep. Tom Price (R): “As a mentor, Charlie never ceased to lend a wise and guiding hand. His vigor, insight and perspective will be sorely missed.”

Born in 1941, Norwood grew up in Georgia and was a standout football star in high school. Norwood attended Georgia Southern University and he married his wife while a student there.

After graduation in 1964, Norwood moved to Washington, where he eventually earned a doctorate in dental surgery from Georgetown University Dental School.

Norwood then became a captain in the U.S. Army Dental Corps, and in 1968, headed to Vietnam, where he would participate in experimental dental practices that later would become standard procedure for the armed forces. He also would provide some of the first field-based dental care for military guard dogs and helped out in Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals.

Norwood was awarded the Combat Medical Badge and two Bronze Stars for his service, as well as a slew of awards given later in his life.

After his discharge from the Army, Norwood opened a private dental practice in Augusta.

Norwood came to Congress in 1995 — his first stint in public office — and immediately began pushing for health care reform. Throughout his Congressional career, he pushed for a Patients’ Bill of Rights, as well as an array of other issues, including education, private property rights, telecommunication and veterans affairs.

And while he died as the Representative from Georgia’s Northeastern 10th district, redistricting allowed Norwood to serve most of the state during his 12 years in office.

But it was a struggle.

Norwood was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in 1998, a condition that causes scarring in a person’s lungs. He received a lung transplant in October 2004, but immune-system-suppressing drugs made him more prone to developing lung cancer.

In 2005, he had a small malignant tumor removed from his non-transplanted lung. In November 2006, doctors discovered that the lung cancer had spread to his liver, and he began chemotherapy treatments.

Despite his illnesses, Norwood continued his efforts on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) remembered how when he first entered Congress, Norwood was one of the first Members to offer guidance.

“As a member of Congress from an adjoining district, I learned firsthand of Charlie’s dedication to the public and his love of America,” Wilson said in a statement.

Added Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.): “If you were ever in a fight, you always wanted Charlie Norwood on your side. He will be sorely missed in Washington.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) remembered Norwood as a fighter.

“He did his best to serve his constituents, his conscience and his country,” she said. “He faced the end of his life and his sickness with great bravery and dignity.”

Democratic leaders received word of Norwood’s death shortly before 2 p.m., at a press briefing following the weekly Caucus meeting.

“He is a great American and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.).

Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) noted that the Georgia lawmaker often flew home via the Columbia, S.C., airport, and that the two shared many weekly flights.

“Charlie and I often talked about politics,” Clyburn said. “We smiled about how often we canceled each other out.”

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) praised Norwood’s willingness to work across the aisle with his Democratic counterparts, and offered that Norwood’s constituents “have lost an honest, hard-working gentleman.”

Colleagues outside of Congress also took time to remember Norwood.

Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan praised Norwood’s efforts to make health care more affordable, while National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) said Norwood’s time in office “will have a lasting effect on our country.”

Susan Davis and Jennifer Yachnin contributed to this report.