A visit to the Star Tribune by U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar was a special occasion no editorial writer wanted to miss. Oberstar, who died Saturday at age 79, was a font of knowledge about his beloved Eighth District, his policy specialty -- transportation -- and a whale of a lot more.
Oberstar's Editorial Board briefings were the equivalent of graduate school seminars. Far from being out of touch, as his political rivals claimed, he was often the first to tell us about new mining technology, pending industrial expansion in Duluth, or a proposed nature preserve in the southern part of his district.
He was also as conversant about Twin Cities transit needs as any metro-area member of the state's congressional delegation. As the House Transportation Committee chair from 2007 until his defeat in 2010 and the ranking minority member for many years before that, Oberstar was deeply familiar with Minnesota's requests for federal transportation dollars.
He loved cycling and was a champion for bicycle trails. He loved railroads, and regaled us with stories about his first trips from Duluth to Chicago and back aboard the fast trains of the 1950s. But his critics had it wrong when they accused him of neglecting highways and bridges. When the Interstate Hwy. 35 bridge fell in Minneapolis in 2007, Oberstar quickly and successfully led the charge for nearly full federal funding of its replacement.
Oberstar was a popular Editorial Board guest for another reason: He was fun. He always brought a big smile, a warm greeting (sometimes in French), good humor and abundant enthusiasm for his topics. Though he visited infrequently, he always seemed as glad to see us as we were to see him.
I was looking forward to seeing the former congressman next month at the opening of the Green Line, the new light rail link formerly known as the Central Corridor between Minneapolis and St. Paul. He helped make it happen. He surely would have been there. He surely will be remembered there, and missed.