ST. PAUL (AP) - State Sen. Sam Solon, a son of Greek immigrants who worked for three decades to bring state projects and money to his home town of Duluth, died Friday afternoon. He was 70. Solon, a DFLer, had been battling liver cancer for months. He died at St. Mary's Hospital.
Among the most senior members of the Legislature, Solon was known for his soft-spoken style. He was elected to the House in 1970 as a junior high school social studies teacher. He was first elected to the Senate in 1972. From then on, he faced scant opposition, defeating most opponents by better than 70 percent.
Solon had a patch of malignant skin cancer on his back in 1984. He had it removed, along with lymph nodes on the right side of his body. But Solon said in February that his doctors informed him that the same cancer had reappeared.
He continued working in the Senate, but missed numerous votes and meetings during the 2001 session as he underwent treatments.
Colleagues in the Legislature fondly recalled his perserverance in bringing facilities and bonding projects to Duluth. He worked to improve the Lake Superior Zoo and expand the city's convention center. He helped attract the Northwest Airlines maintenance base and the construction of a new aquarium. In August, the University of Minnesota-Duluth honored Solon's contributions to the school by naming a campus center after him.
Solon said in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio last year that one of his proudest accomplishments was legislation mandating the extension of Interstate 35 through downtown Duluth. He succeeded despite serious community opposition.
"Sam Solon is one of the classiest colleagues I ever served with," said former Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge, DFL-New Hope. "He fought hard for his region, but he always dealt with people respectfully and understood the needs of the rest of the state."
Others recalled that when people on the Commerce Committee he led couldn't get along, he encouraged them to settle their disputes outside of the meetings rather than argue in public.
Solon spoke Greek fluently and served 18 months in Germany as a language interpreter for the Army in the early 1950s.
Solon apologized to the Senate in 1996 after he pleaded guilty to telecommunications fraud for letting his ex-wife make $2,430 in taxpayer-paid phone calls on his Senate line. That admission followed an incident three years earlier when Solon let a lobbyist make $3,000 in such calls. Solon, however, survived a Republican-led effort to request his resignation and was re-elected with 65 percent of the vote.
The troubles led to a rare Senate reprimand and Solon called the experience one of the most difficult of his life.
Friends said he was lucid before falling into a coma in his final hours, and he used his last words to tell his wife, Yvonne, he loved her.
(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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