HOUSTON — Jack Brooks hounded government bureaucrats, drafted President Nixon’s articles of impeachment and supported civil rights bills in a congressional career spanning 42 years. But for most of the country, the Texas politician is frozen in a photograph, standing over the left shoulder of Jacqueline Kennedy as Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as president.
Mr. Brooks, who died Tuesday at age 89, was in the Dallas motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Hours later, he stood behind the grief-stricken widow in the cabin of Air Force One as Johnson took the oath of office.
Mr. Brooks died surrounded by his family at Baptist Hospital of Beaumont after a sudden illness, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department said. He would have turned 90 on Dec. 18.
Mr. Brooks was among the last links to an era when Democrats dominated Texas politics and was the last of “Mr. Sam’s Boys,” proteges of fellow Texan and legendary 21-year Democratic House Speaker Sam Rayburn in the state’s congressional delegation.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee while Mr. Brooks headed its counterpart in the House, said Mr. Brooks “was a Texan through and through — tough, bold and bigger than life. He lived by principles that were carved into his heart, and he was never afraid to fight for what he believed in.”
Mr. Brooks, first elected to the House in his far southeastern Texas district in 1952, was returned to office 20 times. He was on the verge of becoming the dean of the U.S. House when he was ousted in the Republican revolution of 1994.
Rayburn, whose 48 years beat Mr. Brooks‘ House tenure, put Mr. Brooks on the House Committee on Government Operations, a panel Mr. Brooks eventually would head. Mr. Brooks gained notoriety as a curmudgeonlike scourge of bureaucrats he grilled for wasting taxpayers’ money, peering at witnesses over his glasses as he chewed on a cigar.
“I never thought being a congressman was supposed to be an easy job, and it doesn’t bother me a bit to be in a good fight,” he once said.
“He literally has saved American taxpayers billions of dollars through his actions in improving government efficiency and eliminating waste,” former Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe, a longtime friend who died in 2010, said two years earlier when Mr. Brooks donated his congressional papers, photos, correspondence and other items to the University of Texas.
Jack Bascom Brooks was born Dec. 18, 1922, in Crowley, La., and moved to Texas at age 5. While in public schools, he worked as a carhop, grocery clerk, magazine salesman and a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise. He attended Lamar University in Beaumont, then a two-year school, and earned a degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He served with the Marines in the Pacific in World War II and retired as a colonel from the Marine Corps Reserves in 1972. He received a law degree from the University of Texas and was a two-term Texas state legislator when he was elected to the U.S. House at age 29.
Mr. Brooks married Charlotte Collins in 1960, and the couple had three children, Jeb Brooks, Kate Brooks Carroll and Kim Brooks, and two grandchildren, Matthew Carroll and Brooke Carroll.