Amory Houghton Jr., Who Went From Corning to Congress, Dies at 93

Amory Houghton Jr., Who Went From Corning to Congress, Dies at 93

Amory Houghton Jr., who stepped down as head of his family’s venerable glass works corporation to serve for two decades as a wealthy congressman from upstate New York, becoming a leading moderate Republican voice who defied his party’s hard-right turn, died on Wednesday at his home in Corning, N.Y. He was 93.

His family announced his death.

Mr. Houghton (pronounced HOE-ton), who was widely known as Amo, was elected to Congress in 1986 after a long tenure as chairman and chief executive of Corning Glass Works (now Corning Incorporated). One of the world’s biggest glass makers, it was founded in 1851 by a great-great-grandfather, also named Amory Houghton.

In his first race for the House, Mr. Houghton, a scion of one of the most prominent families in upstate New York, handily won an open seat in a predominantly Republican district whose dairy farms and small-city industrial centers would later run into economic hard times. He easily won eight re-election races.

With an estimated fortune of $420 million in 1991 (the equivalent of about $804 million today), Mr. Houghton was described in news reports as one of the wealthiest members of Congress if not the wealthiest, although he had been known for driving a 10-year-old Volkswagen while leading Corning and eating in the company cafeteria. (While in Congress, he drove a Ford Taurus station wagon.)

In the House he disagreed with a majority of his fellow Republicans on some of the most contentious issues facing them.

Mr. Houghton was one of only six Republicans who voted against the 2002 resolution that authorized President George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq. And he was one of only three from his party who voted against the big tax cuts that were another hallmark of the Bush administration.

In 1998, with his party in control of the House, he was one of just five Republicans who voted against impeaching President Bill Clinton on a perjury charge stemming from his affair with a White House intern, and he was one of 12 voting no on a charge of obstruction of justice.

In the House debate on the Iraq resolution, coming a little more than a year after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Houghton allowed that the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was “bad, and someday we should deal with him.” But he insisted that the United States “must finish our war on terrorism before we take on another fight.”

In 2013, nearly a decade after retiring, he told The Huffington Post that during the war resolution debate he did not believe that Iraq had been building weapons of mass destruction, the White House’s main argument for going to war.

Before the 1998 Clinton impeachment vote, Mr. Houghton declared, “The main issue is how to heal, rather than further divide, the nation.” He was a co-author of a censure resolution and urged the Republican leadership to put it to a vote rather than pursue impeachment. It would have required the president to pay a $500,000 fine but would have avoided a Senate trial and Mr. Clinton’s possible removal from office. The leadership refused, and after impeachment, the president was acquitted by the Senate on both charges.

Mr. Houghton also differed from most Republican colleagues on raising the minimum wage (he favored it) and on abortion rights (he generally supported them). He also broke with most of his colleagues in voting to reform campaign financing by banning so-called soft money, donations given in ways to avoid regulations or limits.

Though calling himself a proud member of the National Rifle Association, he supported a ban on military-style assault weapons, saying they “have no place” in the nation’s cities. When Republican legislation was put forward in 1998 to amend the Constitution to allow organized prayer in public schools, he opposed it.

“People are screaming about getting the government off our backs,” he said, “but they turn around and have the government tell our children how to pray.”

After the 1994 elections gave Republicans control of the House for the first time in 40 years, and the divide with Democrats grew deeper under the new speaker, Newt Gingrich, Mr. Houghton helped establish a bipartisan retreat for members of Congress and their families on the theory that civility and personal friendship would foster cooperation on Capitol Hill.

He also founded, in 1997, the Republican Main Street Partnership, a policy group (it calls itself “the governing wing of the Republican Party”) for party members in and out of government who, according to the group, are “mainstream fiscally conservative” and support “pragmatic common-sense solutions to the challenges our country faces.”

In 2004, after announcing at age 77 that he would not run that year for a 10th term, Mr. Houghton lamented that he was one of “a dying breed” of Republican moderates.

Amory Houghton Jr. was born in Corning on Aug. 7, 1926. Amory Sr. would become president and chairman of Corning Glass Works and later ambassador to France under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Mr. Houghton’s mother, Laura (Richardson) Houghton, a native of Providence, R.I., was a philanthropist and former chairwoman of the Girl Scouts of America.

His grandfather Alanson Bigelow Houghton, also a Corning president and member of Congress from New York State, served as ambassador to Germany under President Warren G. Harding and to Britain under Calvin Coolidge.

After serving in the Marine Corps in 1945 and 46, Mr. Houghton earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in business administration, both from Harvard. He followed the family line into Corning in 1952, rising to chairman and chief executive 12 years later. He was the fifth generation of his family to head the company.

He went on to guide Corning to recovery after it suffered severe financial reversals during a national economic downturn in the 1970s.

Inheriting a company that had been a leading maker of cookware, fine crystal glassware and glass casings for television tubes, he pushed it toward developing optical fiber and other new materials. Corning products today include clean-air technologies, advanced components for the semiconductor industry and display glass for high-performance digital tablets, notebooks and televisions.

Mr. Houghton’s marriage to Ruth Frances West in 1950 ended in divorce. His second wife, Priscilla (Dewey) Houghton, died in 2012.

He is survived by two daughters, Sara Houghton Grayson and Quincy Houghton; two sons, Amory III and Robert; his brother, Jamie; nine grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

Well after leaving Congress, Mr. Houghton remained outspoken about national politics and, in frequent interviews and letters to the editor of upstate New York publications, was rueful that the partisan differences he had worked to overcome in the House had grown only more bitter, both in the House and among Americans generally. He was openly critical of President Trump, calling him divisive.

But Mr. Houghton remained optimistic. “The pendulum swings back and forth in life, and it sure does in politics,” he told The Leader, a newspaper in Corning, in 2017. “I really believe in my heart that we’ve got a terrific future ahead of us.”

Julia Carmel contributed reporting.

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