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Rep. George Brown Dies at 79

Rep. George E. Brown Jr., the oldest member of the House of Representatives, died overnight after a lengthy hospitalization for treatment of an infection, congressional officials said Friday. The California Democrat was 79.

Brown, serving his 18th term, was the senior Democrat on the House Science Committee.

Brown represented California's 42nd District, which includes the city of San Bernardino and other towns lying east of Los Angeles. He was first elected in 1962 after working 17 years for the city of Los Angeles.

He used his post on the Science Committee to support space exploration, both manned and unmanned.

Brown had heart valve replacement surgery on May 3 at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in the Washington suburbs. He seemed to recover well, and returned to work part time about a week later.

In mid-June, though, he was readmitted to the hospital with what his office said was a postoperative infection.

After his election to Congress in 1962, Brown quickly became a foe of the war in Vietnam. As he aged, the cigar-smoking Brown cut a rumpled presence in the Capitol, and he spent his career using his influence for science and space exploration.

In 1970, he gave up a safe seat in the House to run for the Senate, but was defeated in a primary by Sen. John Tunney. Two years later, he won his old seat back.

In recent elections, Republicans made him a perennial target for defeat. They came close numerous times Brown won with 51 percent of the vote in 1992, 1994 and 1996 but never were able to dislodge him.

A special election will be held to fill the remaining 18 months in the current Congress. Republicans are expected to make a vigorous effort to capture the seat.

There was no immediate word on funeral arrangements. His office had no official announcement on Brown's death, but several lawmakers said they had been informed that he had passed away.

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