WASHINGTON — Power peddler Tommy Boggs, who grew up in a pre-eminent New Orleans political family and went on to become the consummate Washington lobbyist, died suddenly Monday morning, apparently the victim of a heart attack.
He was 73 years old.
Thomas Hale Boggs Jr. was considered one of the most powerful lawyers in Washington, representing more than 50 major corporations, trade associations, and state and foreign governments. He was credited with designing and securing congressional approval of the $1.5 billion federal bailout of Chrysler Corp. in 1979.
The National Law Journal, a nationwide newspaper for the legal community, called Boggs one of the most influential lawyers in the United States.
The American Lawyer magazine named Boggs in 2013 as one of the “Top 50 Innovators in Big Law in the Last 50 Years.” The publication credited him for “putting lobbying work on the big firm agenda” and setting the template for the “seamless blend of lobbying and legal services that is now commonplace in the nation’s capital.”
Boggs, who had not been ill, died after spending Sunday with two of his eight grandchildren, watching the Washington Redskins beat the Jacksonville Jaguars. After the game, he dined with friends and seemed fine, his sister Cokie Roberts said.
“This is a huge shock,” she said.
He was the son of Hale Boggs, the former House majority leader who was a congressman from New Orleans, and U.S. Rep. Lindy Boggs, who represented New Orleans for 18 years after her husband died in 1972. Both were Democrats.
Roberts, the television commentator, said her brother was a wonderful cook who enjoyed hunting, fishing and a good cigar.
“He was unbelievably generous person. He got a lot of people out of scrapes,” Roberts said. “He had an incredibly sharp mind and worked incredibly hard,” which was why the law firm that included his name grew into one of the largest and most prestigious in the country.
Squire Patton Boggs was founded in 1962 and initially specialized in international trade law. It expanded to include government regulation and lobbying. The firm now has more than 1,500 lawyers in 44 offices in 21 countries. It reported generating $317.5 million in revenues for 2012, according to The American Lawyer.
For years Patton Boggs reported the highest income from lobbying of all firms, and Boggs, its leading lobbyist, was called by many the “King of K Street,” where many lobbying firms have their offices.
“He was, in the lobbying community here in Washington, sort of an icon,” said Billy Tauzin, the former south Louisiana Republican congressman who now is a Washington lobbyist and who was a longtime friend of Boggs. “He was part of a dynasty, a political dynasty that gave him a great deal of credibility and experience to begin with. And then secondly, Tommy Boggs was incredibly good on his own. Tommy exuded power. When you were around him, he was charismatic and extraordinarily good at his work.”
Former U.S. Sen. John Breaux, D-La., went to work for Boggs after leaving the Senate in 2005. Breaux said, “He was one of the smartest men I’ve ever known and one who had an abiding commitment to seeing how government works and explaining it to others.”
“Tommy was gregarious, fun-loving and appreciated the special bonds that the Boggs family and their friends shared,” U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said in a prepared statement. “He was well known throughout Louisiana and respected in the halls of power in the nation’s capital. Even as politics became more and more partisan, he remained a consensus builder and went on to establish one of the premier lobbying firms in the country.”
“He was a mentor. We were asking his advice on all matters large and small,” said his nephew Lee Roberts. He sought Boggs’ counsel this summer as Roberts was contemplating a shift from private banking to becoming budget director for North Carolina.
“I talked to him extensively during every major life and career decision I’ve made,” Roberts said of Boggs, the family’s patriarch.
Boggs’ birthday is Thursday and the family had planned to gather for a party in Washington on Sunday, Roberts said.
Boggs is survived by his wife, Barbara, and three grown children. His other sister, Barbara Boggs Sigmund, who had served as mayor of Princeton, New Jersey, died in 1990. His mother, Lindy Boggs, died in July 2013.
A Mass will be said at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, a Catholic church in Washington. Boggs will be interred in the Congressional Cemetery, Roberts said.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Joseph Gawler’s Sons, a funeral home in the Friendship Heights neighborhood of Washington.
Boggs was born in New Orleans eight days after his father’s first successful congressional campaign, wrote Carl Bernstein, the reporter famous for exposing Watergate, in a Vanity Fair profile about Boggs.
He split his youth between New Orleans and Washington, D.C., Roberts said. The family spent holidays and the summer in New Orleans.
He attended college and law school at Georgetown University in Washington, working as an elevator operator in the House of Representatives.
Upon graduating from law school in 1965, he worked as an economist for the Joint Executive Committee and in the office of President Lyndon B. Johnson, and then joined the law firm co-founded by Jim Patton.
Hale Boggs was House majority leader until October 1972, when his private plane disappeared during a campaign flight in Alaska. The plane was never found. Lindy Boggs took over representing New Orleans in Congress for the next 18 years.
“He grew up with politicians in his house — presidents and leaders of the House and Senate. Hale Boggs and Lindy instilled in their children a sense of public responsibility,” Breaux said. His “parents really instilled in them a sense of what government was all about and what it could do to make life better for everybody.”