Former Congressman Sam Gibbons in 2007.
TAMPA, Florida (AP) - Former Florida Congressman Sam M. Gibbons, who served 17 consecutive terms and rose to head the powerful Ways and Means Committee, has died. He was 92.
His son Tim Gibbons says the former congressman died suddenly late Tuesday or early Wednesday at a Tampa retirement home.
Gibbons, who never lost an election, was among the Tampa Bay region's best known politicians. He is considered the "father" of the University of South Florida for pushing through legislation to create the school while serving in the Florida Legislature in the 1950s.
Gibbons retired from Congress in 1997 at the age of 76, serving 34 years in what many called an unblemished political career.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson issued the following statement:
"Sam was one of America's heroes. It was easy to tell, from his time as an Army paratrooper in World War II to his many years of dedicated public service, how much he loved his state and country."
U.S. Rep Kathy Castor also had a statement on Gibbons' passing:
"Sam Gibbons was truly one of Tampa's greatest. He served his country with honor and distinction during World War II, in the state Legislature and in the United States Congress.
"He was a D-Day paratrooper, behind the front lines in Normandy on June 6, 1944. In the state Legislature, he led the effort to create the University of South Florida. In the United States Congress, he looked out for the young and old alike. He was an early backer of Head Start for children, and he was an early supporter of Medicare and hospice care for seniors.
"As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, he fought for sound trade policies to propel our nation's economy and to find peaceful solutions to our world's troubles. He fought for civil rights for all Americans. His legacy can be felt when our children achieve in our classrooms, when our seniors use Medicare at the doctor's office, when our loved ones are in hospice care and when students and researchers make a mark on campus at the University of South Florida.
"Tampa would not be what it is today without the work and dedication of Sam Gibbons."