Dead, Thomas Peter “Tom” Lantos on February 11, 2008 at the age of 80, he was an American politician who served as a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives from California, serving from 1981 until his death as the representative from a district that included the northern two-thirds of San Mateo County and a portion of south-western San Francisco.
Born Lantos Tamás Péter into a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary on February 1, 1928, his family was heavily involved in education and included an uncle who was a professor at the University of Budapest and a grandmother who was a high school principal.
His life in Hungary would change after the Third Reich annexing of Austria in 1938, with the Austrian border just 100 miles from Budapest.
In 1946, Lantos enrolled at the University of Budapest.
As a result of his fluent English, he wrote an essay about Franklin D. Roosevelt, and he was awarded a scholarship by the Hillel Foundation to study in the United States.
He then emigrated to the U.S. and studied economics at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he earned a B.A. in 1949 and an M.A. in 1950.
He continued his post-graduate education at the University of California, Berkeley, and received a Ph.D in economics in 1953.
Lantos was a strong supporter of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
During the run-up to the war, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, of which Lantos was co-chairman, hosted a young Kuwaiti woman identified only as “Nurse Nayirah”, who told of horrific abuses by Iraqi soldiers, including the killing of Kuwaiti babies by taking them out of their incubators and leaving them to die on the cold floor of the hospital.
These alleged atrocities figured prominently in the rhetoric at the time about Iraqi abuses in Kuwait. The girl’s account was later challenged by independent human rights monitors.
His moral authority, Hungarian accent and courtly demeanour were unique in Congress.
But he wasn’t afraid to create controversy or to make cutting comments in committee if the testimony he heard was not to his liking.
“This is about as believable as Elvis being seen in a K-Mart,” was his retort to a witness testifying in 1989 about the Reagan-era scandals at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In November 2007, he shocked top executives of Yahoo Inc. at a hearing on the company’s involvement in the jailing of a Chinese journalist by declaring, “Morally, you are pygmies.”
In 2004, he led the first congressional delegation to Libya in more than 30 years, meeting personally with Moammar Gadhafi. He urged the Bush administration to show “good faith” to the North African leader in his pledge to abandon his nuclear weapons programs.
President Bush lifted sanctions against Libya later that year.
In January 2008, Lantos disclosed that he had been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus.
He died at Bethesda Naval Medical Center in February 2008.