Lester Wolff, the influential retired eight-term Democratic congressman who authored the Taiwan Relations Act while representing the North Shore from 1965 through 1981, died Wednesday at Syosset Hospital. He was 102.
The Muttontown resident was the oldest living former member of Congress at the time of his passing. His most notable local accomplishment was having the federal government declare part of Oyster Bay a national wildlife refuge, effectively killing a controversial plan to build an 8.5-mile-long bridge across the Long Island Sound from Bayville to Westchester. The refuge was renamed in his honor last year.
“I’ve changed careers so many times, and the reason and need to be active and keep your mind going in those things is certainly helpful,” said Wolff in an interview with the host of NSTV’S Epic Stories, Elizabeth Johnson, last year.
Wolff, who described himself as a proud, native New Yorker, was born in Harlem to Samuel and Hannah Bartman Wolff. Prior to his congressional career, the former politician served as major, public relations officer, and squadron commander in the Civil Air Patrol. In the ’60s, he also produced and moderated the public affairs television series, “Between the Lines,” in which he interviewed prominent figures like President John F. Kennedy.
Shortly after entering the House, Wolff cosponsored the Medicare bill which provided health insurance coverage to people ages 65 and older, at a time where many seniors did not have medical insurance. A decade after Medicare was first signed into law, Wolff and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy wrote the Taiwan Relations Act, allowing for the continuation of commercial, cultural, and other relations between the U.S. and Taiwan.
“Lester Wolff was the first congressman I worked to help elect, before I could vote, in 1964. I was so happy and proud when he won,” said composer and Valley stream resident, Leonard Lehrman in a statement.
Following his work in Congress, the statesman became chairman of the Pacific Community Institute for sustainable Pacific development. He has won several awards and accolades for his lifetime achievements, including the World Peace Prize Top Honor in 2010 and the highest civilian award in the U.S., the Congressional Gold Medal, in 2014.
Wolff is survived by his daughter, Diane, and son, Bruce. His funeral service will be held on May 16 at 11:30 a.m. at Temple Emanuel of Great Neck.
-With Tim Bolger