February 03, 1997 12:00 PM

MORE THAN ANYTHING, RAUL Tsongas had a sense of responsibility. Struck by cancer in 1983, the U.S. senator-remembering how his mother, Katina, had died of tuberculosis when he was 7—walked away from his dream job and went home to Lowell, Mass., with his wife and three daughters. “Being a senator,” he later told PEOPLE, “was less important than being with my family.” As he launched his long-shot bid for the Presidency in 1991, his lymphoma in remission, Tsongas made it clear that the issues of fiscal responsibility and personal sacrifice he chose to run on were inspired by the obligation he felt to that family. “They’re going to lay me in the ground one day,” he told The Boston Globe. “I want to do the things [that will make] my grandchildren feel good about me.”

On Jan. 18, Tsongas, 55, died of pneumonia—brought on, his doctors believe, by complications from his cancer treatment—but by then he had given any future grandchildren plenty to feel good about. “He battled through his own illness … to fight for America’s well-being, and our country is deeply indebted to him,” President Clinton reflected the next day. It was a gracious tribute to the socially liberal, economically conservative Tsongas, who once dismissed Clinton, then running against him for President, as a fast-talking “pander bear.”

Tsongas sharpened his wit—and his sense of morality—in a family of hardworking Greek immigrants. Educated at Dartmouth and Yale Law School, Tsongas was a moderate Republican until his opposition to the Vietnam War prodded him leftward. Elected to Congress as a Democrat in 1974, he moved to the Senate four years later and was on the fast track until cancer struck in 1983. Although it went into remission and he received bone-marrow transplants, the battle proved overwhelming. He will be remembered for his brave fight against illness, but Tsongas’s greatest appeal, says Susan Prolman, who ran his winning primary campaign in New Hampshire, was his decency. “He was a truly nice guy,” she says, “and people could sense it.”

You May Like