Jack Kemp, a 1960s American football hero who later became a US congressman and vice-presidential nominee, was remembered on Sunday as a man whose passion for politics permanently influenced his party and nation.

"Jack Kemp’s commitment to public service and his passion for politics influenced not only the direction of his party, but his country," President Barack Obama said in a statement issued on Sunday.

Obama praised Kemp as "a man who could fiercely advocate his own beliefs and principles while also remembering the lessons he learned years earlier on the football field: that bitter divisiveness between race and class and station only stood in the way of the ‘common aim of a team to win."’

Family spokeswoman Marci Robinson said Kemp died at his home on Saturday night at the age of 73, after a battle with cancer.

Kemp had announced in January that he had been diagnosed with cancer.

Kemp played quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, represented western New York for nine terms in Congress, and left the House of Representatives for an unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988.

Eight years later, after serving a term as President George H.W. Bush’s housing secretary, he was Bob Dole’s Republican running-mate in a presidential campaign in 1996.

Although Kemp did not again hold political office, he remained active in public life, particularly as an advocate for tax reform.

"Jack was an eternal optimist who was always searching for solutions that would help the American people," Dole said. "Jack and I really got to know one another in the 1996 presidential race. We lost, but Jack’s enthusiasm and his willingness to reach out to Americans everywhere made the race an exciting one."

Former first lady Nancy Reagan called Kemp "one of the strongest Reagan ‘cheerleaders’ we’ve ever had, spreading the message of prosperity through freedom and tax reductions."

Democratic representative John Lewis of Georgia called Kemp "a statesman who, especially in his later years, tried to reach across the aisle to solve some of our nation’s problems. He was deeply concerned about the struggles of urban America, especially those of inner city youth. His voice will be deeply missed."

Kemp’s 13 gridiron seasons included leading the Bills to American Football League titles in 1964 and 1965, the final two seasons before the Super Bowl began ahead of the league’s 1970 merger with the National Football League.

Kemp won the AFL’s most valuable player award in 1965. He co-founded the AFL Players Association in 1964 and was elected president of the union for five terms.

"Pro football gave me a good perspective," he was once quoted as saying. "When I entered the political arena, I had already been booed, cheered, cut, sold, traded, and hung in effigy."

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said "Kemp was an extraordinary American leader who became a trusted colleague and exceptional friend to countless NFL owners, team personnel and commissioners after his MVP playing career with the Buffalo Bills."

Comments are closed.