OCEAN CITY, N.J. — William J. Hughes, a longtime congressman from New Jersey who went on to become U.S. ambassador to Panama, has died at 87.
His family said Thursday that Hughes passed away on Wednesday in Ocean City, where the family had lived for many years. A cause of death wasn't released.
Hughes was one of dozens of Democrats elected to the House in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal, and he served until his retirement in 1995. He was then appointed ambassador to Panama by President Bill Clinton and served in that role until 1998.
During his years in Congress, representing southern New Jersey's Second District, he served on the House Judiciary Committee and chaired the Subcommittee on Crime. He was instrumental in passing legislation to ban fully automatic firearms.
"His legacy will live on through his family and the many achievements that he made on behalf of our great nation," his son, William Hughes Jr., told The Associated Press on Thursday.
At a January 2018 speech at Stockton University's William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, a longtime family friend, referred to him as "a model of civility and statesmanship."
In an email, Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy called Hughes "nothing less than a New Jersey icon" who served as a county prosecutor and later helped protect the state's natural resources while in Congress.
The Federal Aviation Administration's research and development center outside Atlantic City was named after Hughes in recognition of his efforts to keep the facility in southern New Jersey.