Former Congressman Pike Dies

Aug. 31, 1921 - Jan. 20, 2014
Former Congressman Pike Dies   Aug. 31, 1921 - Jan. 20, 2014

      Otis G. Pike, who as a Democrat represented what was then the solidly Republican 1st Congressional District for nine terms in the 1960s and ’70s, died on Monday in Vero Beach, Fla. He was 92 and had been in declining health the past two years, according to his daughter, Lois Pike Eyre of Riverhead.

       Mr. Pike, who was first elected in 1960 despite the fact that Richard M. Nixon handily outpolled John F. Kennedy in his district, served during a two-decade period in which Congress grappled with voting rights, anti-poverty and environmental legislation, the Vietnam War, and the Watergate scandal that eventually forced Mr. Nixon to resign.

       Mr. Pike came to national prominence in 1975 when he chaired the House Select Committee on Intelligence, which examined charges that the Central Intelligence Agency had been planning coups and spying on American citizens. Although Mr. Pike’s committee issued a report that was harshly critical of the intelligence community, the House refused to release it, citing national security concerns. A less critical report, issued by a Senate committee chaired by Senator Frank Church, was released. The Pike Report was later leaked to the CBS newsman Daniel Schorr and published in The Village Voice.

       “He was a very patriotic guy, and he could not believe what was occurring,” said Karl Grossman of Noyac, who covered Mr. Pike as a reporter for the Long Island Press and described him as “the best member of Congress from Long Island that I’ve ever known.”

       Mr. Grossman said Mr. Pike’s disappointment that the mainstream media did not pursue the story of the intelligence report more aggressively played a role in his decision to become a syndicated columnist for the Newhouse News Service, after leaving Congress.

       Not only was Mr. Pike outraged that the C.I.A. had a hand in overthrowing governments, Mr. Grossman said, but “among other things he was outraged because of his Yankee thriftiness by the way they were throwing money around.”

 

       Known for his wit and sense of humor, Mr. Pike once took to the House floor to complain that the military was being overcharged for simple parts like nuts and bolts. Holding up a metal rod that cost more than $25 because it was manufactured with “precision shafting,” he quipped that for once, taxpayers received precisely what they had paid for.

       “He became an institution,” according to Mr. Grossman, who won reelection time and time again by keeping his campaigns simple. He would search for a flaw in his opponent and then exploit it on the campaign trail, often through humorous songs he composed and sang as he accompanied himself on his baritone ukulele.       “He was charming, he was funny, he was smart, and he worked his butt off,” said his daughter. “He went out of his way to meet people and he made a real point of staying in touch with the people in his district,” partly through excellent constituent service, a weekly radio address, and a column that he distributed to community papers in his district, including The Star, which ran his dispatches from Washington under the title “Pike’s Peek at the Capitol.”

 

       Her father took environmental issues very seriously and was proud to have worked for the creation of the Fire Island National Seashore, Ms. Eyre said. A wilderness area there was later named after him.

       David Starr, the former editor of the Long Island Press, said in an email that Mr. Pike had also played a major role in saving wetlands along the Great South Bay as well as in encouraging the creation of Stony Brook University.

       Ms. Eyre said her father never took his position of power too seriously. Once, she said, the family was preparing to return to Long Island for a vacation and her mother had packed the three children into the family station wagon and drove to the White House, where Mr. Pike was attending a reception. In those days, security was not as tight as it is today, and eventually, her mother let her two brothers out of the car, and they cavorted on the White House lawn, to the consternation of the guards. Her father saw what was happening from inside the White House and used that as his excuse to leave the reception before President Kennedy, which normally would have been viewed as a breach of protocol.

       “What’s the matter, Dad? Did you get tired of it,” his youngest son, Robert, asked. “That even got the guards laughing, Ms. Eyre recalled.

       Mr. Pike also enjoyed boating and fishing. For a time he had a converted Navy launch and enjoyed pursuing swordfish. “If we saw one, we would try to sneak up real quietly and he would stand on the bow with a harpoon,” said Ms. Eyre, who added that the prey typically got away.

       Mr. Pike was born on Aug. 31, 1921, in the house on Ostrander Avenue in Riverhead that his father, also named Otis Grey Pike, had built. When his father died when Mr. Pike was 3, his mother, the former Belle Lupton, moved the family to Hawaii, where they lived until her own death four years later. Returning to Long Island, the Pike children lived in the family home with an aunt.

       Mr. Pike attended Princeton University, taking time out to join the Marines during World War II. A fighter pilot, he flew more than 120 missions in the Pacific theater. He returned to Princeton after the war and received his law degree from Columbia University in 1948. He practiced law in Riverhead and was elected a town justice of the peace, a position he held for seven years.

       Mr. Pike and the former Doris Orth of Flanders were married on Jan. 6, 1946. She died in 1996.

       In June 2003, Mr. Pike married Barbe Bonjour, who survives him. Besides his daughter, Mr. Pike is survived by a son, Douglas Pike of Paoli, Pa., and two grandchildren. Another son, Robert, died in 2010.

       A memorial service will be held at a later date.

       The family has requested that memorial donations be made to Planned Parenthood, 434 West 33rd Street, New York 10001, the Riverhead Public Library, 330 Court Street, Riverhead 11901, or the donor’s local public radio or television station.