Longtime Minnesota Rep. Jim Oberstar dies unexpectedly

Former US Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Democrat, was elected to Congress from northeastern Minnesota in 1974 and served 18 terms before losing reelection in 2010. His passing came as a surprise to his family.

Lawrence Jackson/AP/File
House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., presides at a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington in April 2008. Oberstar, who served northeastern Minnesota for 36 years, died in his sleep Saturday, according to a statement from his family.

Former US Rep. Jim Oberstar, who represented northeastern Minnesota for 36 years, died unexpectedly early Saturday morning. He was 79.

A statement released by his family said Oberstar died in his sleep. A cause of death was not provided. His former chief of staff, Bill Richard, said Oberstar died at his home in Potomac, Maryland.

Richard said Oberstar was not ill and his passing came as a surprise. Oberstar's family said it was heartbroken.

"Jim was a loving husband, father, grandfather, friend and brother," the statement said. "While we mourn the loss of a good man, we also celebrate his life and his service. We ask for your thoughts and prayers, and understanding, at this very difficult time."

Oberstar, a Democrat, was elected to Congress in 1974 and served 18 terms before he narrowly lost to GOP challenger Chip Cravaack in 2010 as part of a Republican takeover of the House. He was the state's longest-serving member of Congress, and became chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in 2006.

After he lost to Cravaack, Oberstar said he had loved serving northeastern Minnesota; his district included Duluth and the Iron Range.

"I can't change and wouldn't change any of the votes I cast this year to bring us out of this worst recession, chart a course for the future, to lay a foundation for a better America, a better quality of life, a better quality of health care, rein in financial institutions, to give everybody equal opportunity and a better quality of life," he said after his 2012 loss. "I wouldn't change any one of those things."

Oberstar was the son of an underground miner from Chisholm. The family statement says he was grounded in the hard work, community and family loyalty of the Iron Range region.

"He was active and vivacious and went to one of the grandchildren's plays the night before," Richard said Saturday. "He was going to do more things with the grandchildren today. ...It's a surprise to everyone. I had lunch with him last week and he was in great shape, and alert and physically fit."

Oberstar is survived by his wife, Jean, four children and eight grandchildren.

Associated Press writer Brian Bakst in St. Paul contributed to this report.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.