BOSTON — Massachusetts congressman Joseph Early Sr. wasn’t known as the most vocal of U.S. representatives during nearly two decades in Washington.
But the late Democrat was someone who wasn’t afraid to speak against even his own political party when he believed in something strongly, a friend said Friday.
“It was all about his district, all about his people, all about his strong beliefs. He would not waiver,” former Worcester mayor and radio host Jordan Levy said.
Early, who served in the U.S. House from 1975 to 1993, died Friday at his Worcester home after a brief illness.
He was 79.
A spokesman for Early’s son, Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early Jr., confirmed the former congressman’s death.
Early’s political career started in 1962, when he won a state legislative race by a narrow margin. He then served six terms as a state representative from 1963 to 1974.
Before politics, the Worcester native served in the Navy for two years and worked as a Massachusetts high school teacher and coach.
As a student at College of the Holy Cross, he played for the 1954 squad that won the NIT basketball championship.
Following a House banking scandal involving bounced checks, Early lost his seat in the U.S. House in 1992 to Shrewsbury Republican Peter Blute. But authorities cleared Early of any criminal wrongdoing.
U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said Friday that Early “fought tirelessly for working people” while championing economic development and advocating for medical research.
Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray called Early a tenacious advocate who helped establish University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester and get federal money for health and science research in Massachusetts.
Gov. Deval Patrick said Early’s dedication to public service and central Massachusetts residents paved the way for many public servants who came after him.
“His unwavering commitment to creating a better Commonwealth will be deeply missed by his former colleagues and constituents,” Patrick said in a news release.
Early’s family said in a statement Friday that loved ones were very proud of his life’s work.
“He showed that helping people truly is a noble profession,” they said.
Survivors include his wife, Marilyn, eight children and 23 grandchildren.
When officials dedicated a post office in his hometown in his honor about a decade ago, Early said he enjoyed the thought of his grandchildren passing by the building in years to come and knowing it had his name.