Updated: 12:30 p.m.
Michael Fitzpatrick, a former congressman from suburban Philadelphia who served four terms in the U.S. House before handing off the seat to his brother, died Monday morning after a long battle with melanoma, his family said.
He was 56.
“Michael Fitzpatrick passed away peacefully this morning, surrounded by family, after a long and arduous battle with melanoma,” Fitzpatrick’s family said in a statement released by county Republican Party officials.
Fitzpatrick, who also served as a Bucks County commissioner, worked during his time in Congress to establish the Washington Crossing National Cemetery. He decided against running for a fifth term in 2016. His brother, Brian, a former FBI agent, ran instead and won, and continues to hold the seat.
Fitzpatrick, of Levittown, is survived by his wife had six children.
The Republican Party of Pennsylvania Remembers the Life and Legacy of Mike Fitzpatrick pic.twitter.com/eXXjVotBto
— PA GOP (@PAGOP) January 6, 2020
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey said Fitzpatrick served the state and country with “great integrity, competence, and dignity.” Former Gov. Mark Schweiker called Fitzpatrick a fine public servant who “worked tirelessly to improve the lives of those he served.”
Fitzpatrick’s deep local roots helped him flourish in a swing district, said Bucks County native and GOP political consultant Christopher Nicholas.
“He grew up in Levittown. He never put on airs. People could relate to him,” Nicholas said. “He was very sincere. Very gentle.”
“Former Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley remembered Fitzpatrick as a dogged campaigner whose commitment to grassroots politics helped him thrive.
“Nobody was going to outwork Mike Fitzpatrick,” said Cawley, a longtime family friend of Fitzpatrick who managed several of his campaigns.
Cawley recalled a day during Fitzpatrick’s failed 1994 run for state legislature when the candidate returned to his headquarters with a ripped and bloodied shirt.
Fitzpatrick, it turned out, had been bitten by a dog while knocking on doors. After the attack, Cawley said, he kept right on canvassing.
“He was Mike Fitzpatrick, of course he kept going,” said Cawley. “There were more people to meet and more people to interact with.”
That perseverance would serve Fitzpatrick well during an up-and-down political career.
After a decade as a Bucks County commissioner, Fitzpatrick won election to U.S. Congress in 2004. Two years later, Democrat Patrick Murphy defeated him and held the seat for four years.
Fitzpatrick then came back to beat Murphy in 2010, beginning a six-year stint in Washington.
While there he developed a reputation as a moderate, one of the capital’s dwindling few. He was staunchly anti-abortion, but also championed some environmental causes.
His more notable efforts included the preservation of Bucks County farmland and the designation of the Washington Crossing National Cemetery.
“Mike was willing to sit down with you if you were known to carry an extreme left or an extreme right position, or anywhere in between,” said Cawley.
Fitzpatrick’s brother, Brian, also holds a reputation as a moderate. He managed to ward off strong challenges despite major GOP losses in other parts of the Philadelphia suburbs.
In a statement Monday, Brian Fitzpatrick called Mike his hero and his best friend. “Ever since I was little, I wanted to live up to him and be just like Mike in every way,” said Brian.
WHYY’s Avi Wolfman-Arent contributed reporting.