Charles Mathias, Liberal Maryland Republican, Dies at 87

Posted January 26, 2010 at 5:30pm

Charles “Mac— Mathias, a liberal former Republican Congressman and Senator from Maryland, died on Monday in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 87.

[IMGCAP(1)]Mathias was born into a political family in Frederick, Md., on July 24, 1922. His great-grandfather first ran for the Maryland Senate in 1860. Mathias’ own lifetime of public service started in the Navy during World War II when he served as a seaman in the Pacific. He returned to the U.S., finishing an undergraduate degree at Haverford College and a law degree at the University of Maryland, and he became an assistant attorney general and then a city attorney. He was first elected to Maryland’s House of Delegates in 1959, and in 1960 he was elected to the U.S. House, where he served four terms.

In 1968, he defeated incumbent Sen. Daniel Brewster (D), a friend of his from law school. Until Rep. Bob Ehrlich was elected governor in 2002, he was the most recent Republican elected statewide. In the Senate, he became a prominent member of a band of liberal Republicans. He was a vocal proponent of civil rights and later an equally vocal dissenter against the war in Vietnam. Toward the end of his time in the Senate, he left his mark on the Hill as chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee.

Mathias defeated now-Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) in 1974, but she replaced him after he retired in 1986. His life after Congress still made room for politics. He practiced international law at Jones Day and spoke out on campaign finance issues. In 2008, he endorsed then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for president.

“Obama represents the better choice to successfully address the issues that dramatically affect the health and well-being of our nation today,— he wrote. “The fact that he is also a black American adds special significance for me as someone who was witness to and participated in at least a part of the past century’s discourse on civil rights.—

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) worked on Mathias’ staff in the 1980s, and he fondly remembered the Senator in a release.

“Despite his expansive knowledge and many legislative victories, he was an unassuming man not given to self-promotion. He would drive around in his decade old beat-up light blue station wagon affectionately dubbed the ‘blue bomber’ and stop to pick up the acorns fallen from the great oaks on the Capitol grounds,— Van Hollen wrote.

Mathias’ wife and two sons survive him.