TAMPA — Sam M. Gibbons, who served 17 terms in the US Congress and rose to head the powerful Ways and Means Committee before his retirement, died late Tuesday or early Wednesday at a Tampa retirement home, according to his son. The former congressman was 92.
Tim Gibbons said his father died peacefully at the retirement home, where the two had chatted Tuesday night while looking out over Tampa Bay. ‘‘He was fine, there was no indication of anything,’’ Tim Gibbons said.
Elected in 1962, Mr. Gibbons never lost an election and was among the Tampa Bay region’s best-known politicians. He is considered the ‘‘father’’ of the University of South Florida for pushing through legislation to create the school while serving in the Florida Legislature in the 1950s.
The alumni center at the university bears his name, as does the federal courthouse in Tampa.
‘‘If it hadn’t been for him, we probably wouldn’t have the University of South Florida,’’ said Bob Martinez, a former Florida governor and Tampa mayor.
‘‘And Tampa, to a great degree, is the size it is because of the actions he took as a member of the Florida Legislature. He left quite a government legacy.’’
Mr. Gibbons retired from Congress in 1997 at the age of 76, having served 34 years.
A paratrooper who landed behind enemy lines on D-Day during World War II, Mr. Gibbons went to Washington during the Kennedy Administration, after winning an open seat in 1962.
President Lyndon Johnson turned to Mr. Gibbons in the 1960s to help steer many of his ‘‘Great Society’’ initiatives through the House, telling him, ‘‘You vote Northern and talk Southern.’’
Appointed to the Ways and Means Committee in 1969, Mr. Gibbons became known for promoting free trade, believing that nations that trade with each other don’t fight each other.