Congressman Tom Lantos, 80, dies
Holocaust survivor, former SF State professor succumbs to cancer
February 11, 2008 12:27 PM
Congressman Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), the Congressional Human Rights Caucus co-founder and only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the United States Congress, died Monday morning from complications of esophageal cancer. The SF State professor eme-ritus was 80.
“Tom Lantos was one of the greatest men of principle and conscience it has ever been my privilege to know. In him, the highest aspirations of public service found daily expression,” wrote SF State President Robert Corrigan in a statement released Monday.
“He transmuted his tragic personal experience of the Holocaust into a lifetime of fierce advocacy for human rights and social justice,” Corrigan’s statement continued.
Lantos made his diagnosis public last month, but had announced his intention to complete his 14th congressional term.
Lantos, who lost nearly his entire family in the Holocaust, dedicated his legislative career to fighting anti-Semitism and was a staunch supporter of Israel. He was named chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee last year.
In 1947, Lantos came to the United States from Hungary on an academic scholarship, according to the Biography Directory of the United States Congress. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Washington, Seattle, and a doctorate from UC Berkeley. He started teaching economics at SF State in 1954.
He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1980.
William Mason, a professor emeritus of economics at SF State, taught with Lantos when economic studies had not yet garnered its own department. He remembered Lantos as a private man in his personal life, but outspoken in his policy opinions.
“We didn’t always agree about the direction of the department. That was back in the good old days when we used to fight with each other,” Mason said with a laugh. “We don’t do much of that anymore. We had fun. It was a great department.”
Mason, who still teaches at SF State, also experienced Lantos as a legislator.
“He was my congressman. He delivered well for his district,” Mason said, indicating as an example the Highway 1 tunnel currently being constructed at Devil’s Slide. According to the Web site of State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), the Highway 1 tunnel will be named in Lantos’ honor. Lantos and Yee worked together to secure funding for the project.
“We have lost one of our finest champions for working families, human rights and the environment,” Yee said in a statement on his Web site. “When looking for hope and inspiration, we need not look any farther than the life of Congressman Lantos.”
Although he spent over half of his life in the United States, Lantos never lost his Hungarian accent and Mason credited it for “a sense of European authority,” in Lantos’ oratory style.
“He could really turn a phrase,” said Jack Osman, a professor emeritus who teaches graduate level classes at SF State.
Lantos has lectured to some of SF State’s most accomplished alumni.
“He was Willie Brown’s economics teacher,” said Osman.
Lantos is survived by his wife of 58 years, Annette, two daughters, and many grandchildren.
Allie Schratz contributed to this report.
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