Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, 90,the Democratic governor who led California through an era bullish on growth, beat Richard Nixon and lost to Ronald Reagan, died of a heart attack Friday night.
"More than any other individual, he built modern California," President Clinton said yesterday.
"Pat Brown beat all the near-mortals," said Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat. "Reagan -- he's always been a larger-than-life figure. I put him in a different dimension."
The patriarch of California's dominant political family had been ill for some time, said granddaughter Kathleen Kelly. His wife, Bernice, was at his side when he died.
Mr. Brown was the father of Jerry Brown, a two-term governor and three-time presidential candidate, and one-time state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1994.
Presiding over the golden days of the 1960s, Mr. Brown showered a booming state with millions in public spending projects. He served from 1959 to 1967, and during that time the state paved more than 1,000 miles of freeway, erected 11 public universities and started the California Water Project.
In three campaigns for governor, Mr. Brown faced the three most formidable California Republicans of his era.
In 1958, he defeated William Knowland, then the Republican leader of the Senate and an aspirant for the 1960 Republican presidential nomination.
In 1962, Mr. Brown won a second term by defeating Mr. Nixon, prompting the loser to tell reporters, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore." Mr. Nixon won the presidency six years later.
And, in 1966, Mr. Brown lost a bid for a third term to another future president, Mr. Reagan.
Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, remembered Mr. Brown as "formidable" in his day.
"Pat Brown was an honest liberal -- unlike many today who are at pains to disguise their true beliefs in Republican rhetoric," Mr. Wilson said.