Jack Brooks hounded government bureaucrats, drafted articles of impeachment against President Nixon and was a strong supporter of civil rights in a congressional career that spanned four decades. But the Texas politician was perhaps best known for his appearance in a single photograph.
Brooks is frozen in that November 1963 image, standing behind a grief-stricken Jacqueline Kennedy as Lyndon B. Johnson takes the oath of office aboard Air Force One. Hours earlier, Brooks had been in the Dallas motorcade when President Kennedy was assassinated.
Brooks died Tuesday at a Beaumont, Texas, hospital after a sudden illness, according to a statement from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. He was 89.
The irascible, cigar-smoking Brooks was the last survivor of a group known as "Mr. Sam's Boys," proteges in the Texas congressional delegation of legendary Democratic House Speaker Sam Rayburn, a fellow Texan who spent 17 years in the post.
"I'm just like old man Rayburn," Brooks once said. "Just a Democrat, no prefix or suffix."
Vice President Joe Biden, who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Brooks headed its counterpart in the House, said "he was a Texan through and through."
He was "tough, bold, and bigger than life," Biden said in a statement. "He lived by principles that were carved into his heart, and he was never afraid to fight for what he believed in."
First elected to the House in 1952, Brooks was returned to office 20 times by his southeast Texas district. He was ousted in the Republican revolution of 1994.
Rayburn appointed Brooks to the House Government Operations Committee, a panel he eventually chaired. Peering at witnesses over his glasses as he chewed on a cigar, he became known as a scourge of bureaucrats, grilling them for wasting taxpayers' money.
"I never thought being a congressman was supposed to be an easy job, and it doesn't bother me a bit to be in a good fight," Brooks once said.
He authored a law that required full and open competition to be the standard for awarding federal contracts and another that established independent offices of inspector general in major agencies to prevent fraud and waste. Other Brooks bills reduced federal paperwork, provided a uniform system of federal procurement, eliminated overlapping audit requirements and established the Department of Education.
"He literally has saved American taxpayers billions of dollars through his actions in improving government efficiency and eliminating waste," former Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe, a longtime friend, said in 2008 when Brooks donated his congressional papers and other items to the Center for American History at the University of Texas. Briscoe died in 2010.
Brooks also served on the House Judiciary Committee, where he supported Nixon's impeachment and drafted the articles of impeachment adopted by the panel. Nixon, who resigned Aug. 9, 1974, referred to Brooks as "the executioner."
Jack Bascom Brooks was born Dec. 18, 1922, in Crowley, La., and moved to Texas at age 5.
He attended Lamar University in Beaumont, later earning a bachelor's degree in journalism and a law degree from the University of Texas. He served with the Marines in the Pacific during World War II and retired as a colonel from the Marine Corps Reserves in 1972. At 29, he was elected to the U.S. House after two terms in the Texas state legislature.
He supported civil rights bills, refused to sign the segregationist "Southern manifesto" in 1956 and helped write the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.
His support of abortion rights and a ban on assault weapons were considered factors when he lost his congressional seat in 1994 during an election season in which many Republicans triumphed over long-serving Democrats.
In 1960, Brooks married Charlotte Collins. The couple had three children, Jeb Brooks, Kate Brooks Carroll and Kim Brooks, and two grandchildren.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun