Former U.S. Rep. Mike Oxley, a 12-term congressman from Findlay who co-sponsored the landmark Sarbanes-Oxley Act, died Friday. He was 71 years old.
Oxley died in his sleep at home in McLean, Virginia, according to Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, one of his successors in Congress, and Jody O’Brien, co-director of the Hancock County Board of Elections.
He suffered from non-small cell lung cancer, a type of lung cancer seen in non-smokers, his widow, Patricia, told The Associated Press. He was chairman of the Lung Cancer Alliance board of directors.
Oxley served in Congress from 1981 through 2006. Earlier, he was a state legislator and a special FBI agent.
“I do believe Mike represented us at that time as well as anyone could represent a district,” said O’Brien, who was his campaign treasurer when he was in the House. “He was a wonderful person. His love for Findlay shown through and he was a great statesman.”
“The country has lost a great public servant and I have lost a great friend and mentor,” said Gov. John Kasich. “Throughout my time in Congress, Mike Oxley was always there to help me, support me and encourage me,” the governor said. “There will always be a special place in my heart for him … His family should be very proud of his legacy and our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time.”
Latta said, “He was someone who loved working for his constituents, not only in state and federal government, but as an FBI agent.”
He never forgot Findlay, the University of Findlay, or the community, Latta said.
“His presence will be sorely missed,” said Latta, whose 5th Congressional District includes portions of Oxley’s old congressional district.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, who was elected to fill the 4th Congressional District seat after Oxley retired, said, “He was a friend, a mentor, and one of the finest public servants I’ve ever met. From the FBI, to the state Legislature, to serving with distinction for 25 years as 4th District congressman, he reached pinnacles of power, but he never lost touch with the common-sense values he learned growing up in Findlay. I know that throughout his life, he cared deeply about his community, state, and nation. We should all be thankful that decent people like Mike Oxley are willing to commit their lives to public service.”
Also remembering Oxley with fondness was former House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, a longtime friend.
“Few things are more difficult than having to say goodbye to a friend. Mike Oxley and I were friends for more than 30 years,” Boehner said.
“Mike Oxley was a model statesman and an Ohio original. He served his constituents and country with honor and courage, always with twinkle in his eye and a heart full of love. He was as skilled as a legislator as he was quick with a smile. He loved to serve, and he loved those he served, and it was reflected in his work.
“During our years together in public service, Mike Oxley and I forged a genuine friendship that extended to our families and staff. I will always cherish the memories of the times Ox and I had together, from our first golf game together when I was a freshman state legislator, to the hours we spent together this fall reflecting on all we’d been through.
“In all the miles I traveled during my career in public service, I never encountered a soul more devoted to family, friends, state and country than the gentleman from Ohio’s 4th District, Mike Oxley,” Boehner said.
Richard Larick, chairman of the Executive Committee of the Hancock County Republican Party, said Oxley was a “great financial supporter” of the local party over the years.
Oxley also was able to get well-known public officials to speak at the fall GOP dinner, Larick said. “He helped behind the scenes,” Larick said.
“He still maintained his roots. He liked to come back and visit. He was just really a good guy,” Larick said. “He’ll be missed.”
Michael Garver Oxley represented the 4th Congressional District, which included Hancock County at the time, from June 1981 to January 2007.
In 2002, Congress passed the landmark Sarbanes-Oxley Act to prevent fraudulent corporate accounting, following the collapse of Enron and WorldCom, which shook investor confidence.
Those and other accomplishments occurred in the second half of Oxley’s congressional career. As a Republican, he spent his first 13 years in the minority in the U.S. House. He reportedly considered not seeking re-election in 1994, the year he turned 50, but he ran as Republicans regained, and held, a majority in the House.
In 2001, he was elected chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, which focuses on banking and Wall Street issues.
“He led the panel through the aftermath of the tech bubble, the difficult post-9/11 period, and the rash of corporate scandals early in the decade that destroyed investor confidence and sent the markets into a tailspin,” his law firm, BakerHostetler, said.
“Known for his ability to bring Republicans and Democrats to agreement, Mr. Oxley successfully completed many significant pieces of legislation in the Financial Services Committee, many of which are now law,” it said.
In Congress, Oxley also successfully fought for funding to convert U.S. 30 to a safer four-lane highway and corridor of economic growth in Ohio. Major improvements at Findlay Airport in the late 1990s and early 2000s were enabled with grants which Oxley and others helped win for the city.
But before hometown audiences, Oxley spoke more of Findlay’s “shining moment” of civic spirit: Its successful effort to prevent Mobil Corp.’s hostile takeover of Marathon Oil Co. in 1981. Hundreds of high-paying jobs would have disappeared in a takeover, hollowing out downtown and devastating the community.
At 37, Oxley was just starting to live his childhood dream of serving his hometown in Congress. Even as he was getting acclimated to Washington, Oxley flew back and forth during the three-week takeover fight, talking with lawyers about political and legal strategy to derail Mobil’s bid.
The conservative Republican teamed with an otherwise unlikely ally, liberal Democratic Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, in fighting the takeover. Oxley debated on the U.S. House floor a bill to put a moratorium on hostile takeovers.
Ultimately, Marathon and its supporters found a white knight in U.S. Steel Corp., which bought Marathon and kept it in Findlay.
U.S. Steel eventually spun off Marathon Oil, which, in turn, spun off Marathon Petroleum Corp. in 2011 in Findlay.
Oxley gave credit for the happy ending to his hometown and to Marathon leaders.
Decades later, he talked about his offices being walled with “Save Marathon” banners made by children and about big public rallies in support of Marathon during the takeover fight.
Mobil Corp.’s takeover bid “started a community effort to save Marathon, the likes of which I’ve never seen before or since,” he said in a speech last April before Findlay Rotary Club.
His Findlay roots and early experiences also played into his fight to widen U.S. 30 with a median in Ohio. For decades, U.S. 30 had a reputation as a dangerous road. As kids, Oxley and a friend often traveled it.
“My dad officiated football games … all over northern Ohio … A lot of times you would go Route 30 and back. Then, this was in the 1950s, Route 30 was an absolute mess. It was a two-lane highway with a lot of deaths,” he recalled recently.
Eight years after he left Congress, Oxley discussed his tenure during the dedication of the Michael G. Oxley Government Center at the Hancock Historical Museum in 2014.
“This immense responsibility you have of representing some 630,000 people, with the understanding that … if you are lucky, you’ll have 51 percent of (them) agree with you, with all of the different issues,” he said.
“It was fascinating to do that, and then hear from people back home and then go back and try to make policy in Washington that they would agree with, or at least the majority would agree with,” he said.
Though as a fiscal and social conservative, Oxley was a good fit for the 4th District he represented, he was not an ideologue. Oxley could work with the other side of the aisle.
“When he was chairman of the Financial Services Committee, Barney Frank from Massachusetts was the ranking member, the ranking Democrat, and they got along wonderfully because Mike was respectful of him,” said Bonnie Dunbar, who had been Oxley’s district representative in his Findlay office.
“They actually ended up having a good friendship. They didn’t agree on anything. They were worlds apart ideologically, politically, but because of the respect Mike had and the way he treated those members of the minority party, it went a long way on the committee.”
Oxley said his experience in Washington only strengthened his belief in democracy.
“Democracy and representative government really do work, even though we get frustrated at times with inaction or gridlock,” Oxley said. “It is the best system ever created, where people make the decisions in their government.”
After retiring from the House, Oxley became become vice chairman of the NASDAQ OMX Group stock market. He also served as senior adviser to the NASDAQ and was of counsel for the BakerHostetler law firm in Washington.
“Congressman Oxley backed pro-business, low-tax, pro-competition, and free trade positions as the best policy atmosphere to support strong economic growth,” BakerHostetler said in a biography.
“He is a well-known advocate for free trade agreements and international business engagement and has consistently backed the nation’s law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and military in the fights against drugs, crime, and terrorism,” the firm said.
He was elected to Congress in 1981 in a special election to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Rep. Tennyson Guyer.
Earlier, Oxley served in the Ohio House of Representatives from 1972 to 1981 and was a special agent for the FBI from 1969 to 1972.
Oxley earned a bachelor’s degree from Miami University in 1966 and a law degree from Ohio State University in 1969. He graduated from Findlay High School in 1962.
In recent years, Oxley served on the University of Findlay board of trustees. Earlier this year, he and his wife donated $500,000 to the university to be used toward construction of a combined student life center and College of Business building.
“Mike was a wise, generous and engaging leader and friend,” university President Katherine Fell said Friday. “Even as he faced serious illness in the last few months of his life, he spoke with a special effervescence on topics dear to him, and I am deeply grateful that the University of Findlay was one of the those. We will miss him.”
He is also survived by a son, Michael Chadd.