Obituary: William Coyne / Longtime congressman from Pittsburgh

Aug. 24, 1936 - Nov. 3, 2013

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William "Bill" Coyne, the affable and quiet Democratic congressman who represented the Pittsburgh area in Washington, D.C., for 22 years, from 1980 to 2002, never strayed far from his Irish roots or his liberal blue-collar politics.

Mr. Coyne, 77, who was born at Mercy Hospital on Aug. 24, 1936, died there early Sunday morning of complications from a fall in August, according to Jamie Rooney, his longtime executive assistant.

Mr. Coyne, who attended Mass daily, was a graduate of Central Catholic High School and held an accounting degree from Robert Morris University. He served in the Army in South Korea from 1955 to 1957.

He was a Pennsylvania state representative from 1971 to 1973, and on Pittsburgh City Council from 1974 to 1980, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the 14th District.

In Congress, Mr. Coyne served on the Ways and Means Committee, and represented that committee on the House Budget Committee for five years. He also served on the House Banking Committee, the Committee on House Administration and the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, also known as the House Ethics Committee.

"I was always amazed at his passion and drive," Dan Coyne said of his uncle's work in Washington. "When he was in Congress he worked the job seven days a week. He had strong beliefs and he was doing things he thought were right and that would help people. He had a strong sense of duty."

Mr. Coyne had a number of behind-the-scenes successes on the House Ways and Means Committee, where he worked on legislation for earned income tax credits for the poor and industrial development bonds for cities. He also had an admirable record of constituent service.

He retired in 2002 rather than run against fellow Democratic Congressman Mike Doyle of Forest Hills, after a Republican-led redistricting combined their adjacent districts.

"When they redistricted, the new territory was 60 percent Billy's old district and 40 percent mine, and I just figured I was done," Mr. Doyle said Sunday, after learning of Mr. Coyne's death. "I mean, how was I going to beat Bill Coyne in the city of Pittsburgh?"

Then, Mr. Doyle said, he got a phone call. It was Mr. Coyne.

"He said, 'I'm not going to run against you. I'm going to retire.' I said, 'When did you decide that?' He said, 'Ten minutes ago.' I said, 'When are you going to tell the press?' He said, 'As soon as I hang up with you,' " Mr. Doyle said.

"That's just the way he was, low-key, private, laid-back, a gentleman," Mr. Doyle said.

Although critics said Mr. Coyne's legislative record was thin, Mr. Doyle said he did lots of things behind the scenes that the public never knew about.

"Billy was old-school. He came up through the ranks and was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat who was big in the environmental community, in the labor community," Mr. Doyle said. "He was dignified and never flustered, a workhorse, not a show horse."

After his retirement he backed away from politics, living quietly in the Oakland neighborhood where he grew up with his brother, Philip A. Coyne Jr., swimming, going to coffee shops and making regular and repeated trips to his ancestral home in Oughterard, County Galway, Ireland, where he had a residence.

"When Phil turned 90, five years ago he took all of us over there and acted as our tour guide," Dan Coyne said. "He loved Ireland and that part of his heritage. But he remained very much an Oakland guy, a Pittsburgh guy."

In addition to his brother, he is survived by his companion, Kathy Kozdemba.

Friends will be received from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and 2 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at John A. Freyvogel Sons funeral home, 4900 Centre Ave. at Devonshire, Shadyside. A Mass will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in St. Paul Cathedral, Oakland. Interment will follow at Calvary Cemetery.

Family suggests memorial contributions be made to WQED Public Television, 4802 Fifth Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213; WESA-FM Public Radio, 67 Bedford Square, Pittsburgh, PA 15203; or La Roche College, 900 Babcock Blvd., Pittsburgh, PA 15237.

Don Hopey: or 412-263-1983.


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