Frank Lautenberg had deep ties to the Vail Valley | VailDaily.com

Frank Lautenberg had deep ties to the Vail Valley

Frank Lautenberg

EAGLE COUNTY — The next time you drive the winding path through Maloit Park toward the school building in Minturn, you can thank Frank Lautenberg that the Superfund site there is no longer a super mess.

Or the next time a flight attendant reminds you there's no smoking, or you see a teenager getting carded at a liquor store, think of Lautenberg.

Lautenberg, a former U.S. senator from New Jersey who had deep and strong ties to the valley, died Monday. At 89, he was the oldest person in the Senate and the last of 115 World War II veterans to serve there.

Lautenberg was a native of one of the most congested and heavily industrialized and polluted states. He pushed for money for the Superfund toxic-waste cleanup program.

One of those Superfund sites is right here in the Vail Valley, the Gilman mine tailings pond just a couple hundred yards from the public school in Minturn.

After Lautenberg won the 1982 election, Nicholas Brady, who had been appointed to serve the remainder of the previous term, resigned early to give Lautenberg valuable seniority over other new senators.

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Lautenberg was sworn in as a U.S. Senator on Dec. 27, 1982, while he was vacationing in Vail. A federal judge from Denver made the trip to Vail to do the honors.

Lautenberg's son, Josh, is a local realtor and the senator was a regular visitor in the valley. Josh chose the lifestyle of the Vail Valley instead of a political career in New Jersey and moved to Vail in 1991.

In the 1980s, the senator was a driving force behind the laws that banned smoking on most U.S. flights and made 21 the drinking age in all 50 states.

He authored the 1984 law that threatened to withhold federal highway money from states that did not adopt a drinking age of 21, a measure that passed amid rising alarm over drunken driving. At the time, some states allowed people as young as 18 to drink. By 1988, every state had lined up behind the law, which has been widely credited with reducing highway deaths.

The reformed smoker was one of two primary sponsors of the 1989 law that banned smoking on all domestic flights of less than six hours, one of several anti-smoking laws he championed.

Lautenberg was a self-made millionaire who served nearly three decades in the Senate in two stints, beginning with an upset victory in 1982 over Republican Rep. Millicent Fenwick, the pipe-smoking, pearl-wearing patrician who was the model for the cartoon character Lacey Davenport in "Doonesbury."

He won his last race in 2008 at age 84, becoming the first New Jersey politician ever elected to five Senate terms.

"People don't give a darn about my age," Lautenberg said at the time. "They know I'm vigorous. They know I've got plenty of energy."

He first retired in 2000 after 18 years in the Senate, saying he did not have the drive to raise money for a fourth campaign.

But New Jersey Democrats recruited Lautenberg out of retirement in 2002 as a replacement for Robert Torricelli, who had abandoned his re-election bid just five weeks before Election Day in a campaign finance scandal.

Lautenberg made his fortune as chairman and CEO of Automatic Data Processing, a New Jersey-based payroll services company he had founded with two friends in 1952. It became one of the largest such companies in the world.

Lautenberg, who lived in Cliffside Park, N.J., is survived by his wife, Bonnie, and four children from his first marriage, which ended in divorce in 1988.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Factoid about Sen. Frank Lautenberg

Lautenberg was sworn in as a U.S. Senator on Dec. 27, 1982, while he was vacationing in Vail. A federal judge from Denver made the trip to Vail to do the honors.