Bob Edgar, president and CEO of one of the nation’s leading government reform groups and a former Pennsylvania congressman, died this week at the age of 69.

The head of Common Cause died suddenly at his home on the morning of April 23, the group said in a press release.

“We are deeply saddened and shaken today by the passing of Bob Edgar,” said Common Cause Board Chair Robert Reich in a statement. “Bob will be remembered for his decency, kindness, compassion and humor. His deep commitment to social justice and strengthening our democracy is his greatest gift to Common Cause and the nation.”

Edgar was among the “Watergate babies,” a class of lawmakers who swept onto Capitol Hill in 1974 after the Watergate scandal and initiated sweeping reform. He represented Pennsylvania’s Seventh District for 12 years until he left to wage an unsuccessful challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter (R) in the 1986 Senate race.

A Methodist minister by vocation, Edgar served as president of the Claremont School of Theology in California for 10 years after leaving Congress. He went on to lead the National Council of Churches, a leading ecumenical group that advocates for progressive social policies, particularly the elimination of poverty.

Edgar took the helm of Common Cause in 2007 and was particularly devoted to the causes of clean elections and campaign finance reform.

Since the news of Edgar’s death, the advocacy community has been in mourning, offering several tributes to the man and his legacy.

“Bob was a hero. He devoted his life to advancing the cause of good government,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “He knew that the best way to protect any of our rights is to protect our basic democratic rights. He fought passionately for every American to have an equal voice and an equal chance to participate in our democracy.

“Bob was a great friend to the NAACP and to all organizations fighting for social justice.”

Calling Edgar a “true progressive hero,” Michael Keegan, president, People for the American Way Foundation, said, “Bob devoted his life to public service, as a member of Congress, a leader for progressive people of faith and a tireless advocate for our democracy. His kindness, good humor and commitment to holding our nation up to its highest ideals were an inspiration to all who were fortunate enough to work with him. He will be sorely missed.”

Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Edgar was a “minister for all Americans.”

“He challenged our nation to live up to its greatest ideals of integrity, rule of law, and equality championed the ideal that a true democracy would lead to greater respect for the rule of law and human rights,” Henderson said in a statement. “He was a master at connecting kitchen table issues with the need to ensure ethics, transparency, and accountability in our government.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) echoed the refrain.
“Congressman Edgar is an extraordinary example of how the strength of one voice can empower millions to call for change,” she stated. “His memory and legacy will inspire his colleagues and everyone who seeks a more open, just, and perfect union. We only hope it is a comfort to his wife Merle, his sons, Andrew, David, and Rob, and their families that so many mourn their loss at this sad time.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO