Former House Speaker Tom Foley died at the age of 84 on Friday.
Foley, a Washington state Democrat, lost his bid for re-election in 1994, despite his role as the top lawmaker in the House.
Foley's defeat after 15 terms came in the year Republicans seized control of the chamber following more than four decades in the minority.
Foley was the first speaker to lose re-election since the Civil War and was one of 54 House Democrats ousted in the "Republican Revolution" that led to the ascension of Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., as speaker.
Gingrich's brash and confrontational style was in sharp contrast with the soft-spoken and conciliatory Foley, whose wife, Heather, served as his chief of staff.
Foley's Republican successor, George Nethercutt, beat Foley in part by promising to serve only three terms, though he ultimately served five.
Foley was known for having prevailed over the House during the banking and post office scandals that contributed to the heavy Democratic losses in 1994.
President Clinton in 1997 appointed Foley to serve as ambassador to Japan, a post he held until 2001.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who served two terms as speaker, said Friday that Foley championed bipartisan compromise for the common good.
“Today, our country mourns the loss of a leader whose authenticity, dedication and diplomacy will forever serve as an example to all of us who strive to make a difference through public service," Pelosi said.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, also praised Foley.
"Forthright and warmhearted, Tom Foley endeared himself not only to the wheat farmers back home, but also colleagues on both sides of the aisle," Boehner said. "That had a lot to do with his solid sense of fairness, which remains a model for any speaker or representative."
In a statement, President Obama said the nation had “lost a legend of the United States Congress.”
“For thirty years, Tom Foley represented the people of Washington’s 5th district with skill, dedication, and a deep commitment to improving the lives of those he was elected to serve,” the president said. “Tom’s straightforward approach helped him find common ground with members of both parties.”