Tom Foley, Speaker of the House 1989-1995, died today.
Foley was enormously popular within the House during the 1980s, at least among Democrats, as he moved from Ag Committee Chair to Whip to Majority Leader to Speaker. He was an excellent Member of Congress, and as far as I know was quite effective at those jobs.
As Speaker, he acquired a reputation of being more liked than effective, and I think that was generally fair. The rise of Newt Gingrich wasn't his fault; if anything, he at least slightly opened up opportunities for the minority party in the House to participate meaningfully. And moving power back from the Speaker's office to the committees was good. Still, however, the general sense was that he didn't co-ordinate the Democratic majority as well as he should have.
(I was a young'n House staffer when Foley was Whip, and I can definitely attest to his reputation on the Hill at that point; I met Foley after he had left office, and I found him both a very nice man and very generous with his willingness to talk to grad students as if we were real people.)
Whatever his problems as Speaker, Foley deserves to be remembered as a patriot who worked hard to make his nation better as he saw it. US political culture, alas, undervalues Congress in general and important Congressional leaders in particular. Foley was an excellent Member of the House for many years; that's actually a big deal, and worth celebrating.