Silvio O. Conte

Silvio Conte
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 1st district
In office
January 3, 1959 – February 8, 1991
Preceded by John W. Heselton
Succeeded by John Olver
Member of the Massachusetts Senate
In office
Personal details
Born (1921-11-09)November 9, 1921
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Died February 8, 1991(1991-02-08) (aged 69)
Bethesda, Maryland
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Corinne Conte
Children four
Alma mater Boston College
Religion Roman Catholic

Silvio Ottavio Conte (November 9, 1921 – February 8, 1991) was a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives for 16 terms, representing the 1st Congressional District of Massachusetts from January 3, 1959, until his death in Bethesda, Maryland in 1991. He strongly supported legislation to protect the environment, as well as federal funding of medical and scientific research.

Early life and education

Conte was born to parents who were Italian immigrants in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He attended local public schools, including Pittsfield Vocational High School, graduating in 1940.

He served in the United States Navy during World War II from 1942 to 1944. He married Corinne Duvall, and they had four children together.

After the war, Conte went on to college, graduating from Boston College and Boston College Law School under the G. I. Bill. He earned his law degree (LL.B.) in 1949 and passed the Massachusetts bar.

Political career

Conte returned to Pittsfield and immediately turned his attention to politics. He was elected to the Massachusetts Senate in 1950, serving from 1951 to 1958.

He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1958, defeating James M. Burns, a professor at Williams College. Conte was appointed to the House Appropriations Committee, a seat that he would keep for all of his long congressional career.

Congressional career

Conte was effective in taking care of his district, which covered most of Western Massachusetts. He helped to win defense contracts for the General Electric plant in Pittsfield. An avid fisherman and environmentalist, he introduced legislation to bring back Atlantic salmon to the Connecticut River and worked to protect other natural resources.[1]

He supported federal funding of research, and secured funding for a polymer research center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. As he was a passionate advocate for federal funded health research through the National Institutes of Health, the NIH continues to honor him today with grants for neurological research awarded in his name.[2]

Conte never lost an election; he was the only member of Congress who did not have an opponent in the 1964 election. He is somewhat infamous for wearing a pig mask in a 1983 press conference, as a protest against pork barrel spending.

A member of the Republican Party, Conte was part of what was then its liberal northern tradition.[3] Conte voted against U.S. involvement in the 1991 Gulf War. On social issues, Conte's record also reflected his Roman Catholic faith; for instance, he was opposed to abortion.[4] He encouraged a generation of young activists whom he hired as staff. For instance, Betty Boothroyd worked for him as a legislative assistant between 1960 and 1962; she later became Speaker of the British House of Commons.

Death and burial

Congressman Conte died at age 69 of prostate cancer in Bethesda, Maryland on February 8, 1991. He is buried in St. Joseph's Cemetery in his home town of Pittsfield. More than 5,000 of his constituents waited in line in 5 °F (−15 °C) weather to attend his wake at tiny All Souls Church, his childhood church, in Pittsfield.

His funeral was attended by four U.S. Cabinet secretaries, 100 members of Congress, and the sitting Vice President of the United States, Dan Quayle. He was eulogized by long-time political friends Tip O'Neil (former U.S. Speaker of the House) and Senator Edward Kennedy.

He was survived by his wife Corinne (née Duval), and their four children. John Olver, a Democrat, succeeded him in Congress.

Legacy and honors


United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John W. Heselton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
John W. Olver
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