Sen. Paul Coverdell Dies at Age 61

ByABC News

A T L A N T A, July 18, 2000 -- Sen. Paul Coverdell, a congressional workhorsewho quickly ascended to a leadership post and served as the Senatepoint man for longtime friend George W. Bush, died today. He was61.

Coverdell had surgery Monday to relieve pressure from a cerebralhemorrhage but died from swelling in the brain, according to Atlanta’s Piedmont Hospital. The senator, who had reported no serious health problems inthe past, was hospitalized Saturday night after complaining ofsevere headaches.

Coverdell, who served as Peace Corps director in the Bushadministration, was first elected to the Senate in 1992 bydefeating incumbent Democrat Wyche Fowler Jr.

He became the fourth-leading Republican in the Senate, servingas GOP Conference secretary and sitting on several committees,including agriculture, finance and foreign relations.

Behind-the-Scenes LiaisonHe also was the Senate liaison for Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s presidentialcampaign and had been busy preparing for the Republican NationalConvention, which begins in Philadelphia in two weeks.

“Paul Coverdell was one of the kindest and most decent men Imet in my entire life,” former President Bush said in a statement.“We shall miss him as we would miss our own son.”

Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat, has the option of appointing asuccessor to serve until a special election in November. The lastsenator to die in office was Rhode Island Republican John Chafee,who died from heart failure last October.

Coverdell built a reputation as an effective, behind-the-scenesoperative for Senate Republicans, working long hours to organizehis colleagues into a unified voice.

‘Mikey’ RememberedHe became a close ally of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, whoaffectionately referred to him as “Mikey,” handling unglamoroustasks or pointed media questions to Coverdell with the comment,“That’s a job for Mikey.”

Aides said the reference came from the 1970s TV commercial forLife cereal in which a pudgy boy named Mikey agrees to try thecereal, even though his friends wouldn’t because “it’s s’posed tobe good for you.”

Lott, who announced Coverdell’s death in the Senate, expressedhis sympathy to Coverdell’s widow, and with his voiced choked withemotion, he added, “Our hearts break also.”

Republican ArchitectCoverdell’s signature issue in the Senate for the past fouryears was education, specifically his proposal to expand highereducation savings accounts to allow tax-free withdrawals for schoolexpenses from kindergarten through high school.

President Clinton vetoed the measure in 1998, and forcedRepublicans to pull it from a year-end budget bill in 1997 underthreat of a veto. The president maintained that the measure wouldhurt public schools and benefit only wealthy families. Coverdellhad been pushing the legislation again this year.

Coverdell also was one of Clinton’s most outspoken critics inthe Senate, both on domestic and foreign policy issues.

Coverdell and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were thearchitects of the modern Republican Party in Georgia. During 16years in the Georgia Senate, Coverdell was the best known GOPoffice holder in a state that was dominated from top to bottom byDemocrats.

His party-building efforts paid off in 1998, when Coverdellbecame the first Republican to win re-election to the Senate fromGeorgia since Reconstruction.

Coverdell was born Jan. 29, 1939, in Des Moines, Iowa, andreceived a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1961 from theUniversity of Missouri.

He served two years in the Army in Okinawa, Korea and Taiwanbefore helping his parents start the family’s Atlanta insurance andfinancial services business, Coverdell & Co.

He was married to the former Nancy Nally of Sandy Springs, Ga.They had no children.

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