On Friday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called Foley "forthright and warmhearted" in a written statement.
"Tom Foley endeared himself not only to the wheat farmers back home but also colleagues on both sides of the aisle," Boehner said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called Foley "a quintessential champion of the common good" who "inspired a sense of purpose and civility that reflects the best of our democracy."
Foley loved the classics and art, hobnobbing with presidents, and he had a fine stereo system in his Capitol office.
He also loved riding horseback in parades and getting his boots dirty in the rolling hills of the Palouse country that his pioneer forebears helped settle.
Foley studied at the feet of Washington state's two legendary senators, Henry M. Jackson and Warren G. Magnuson. "Scoop" Jackson was his mentor and urged his former aide to run for the House in 1964.
Foley worked with leadership to get plum committee assignments. Retirement, new seniority rules, election losses and leadership battles lifted Foley into the Agriculture Committee chairmanship by age 44. He eventually left that post, which he later called his favorite leadership position, to become Democratic whip, the caucus' third-ranking post.
Similar good fortune elevated him to majority leader, and the downfall of Jim Wright of Texas lifted him to the speaker's chair, where he served from June 1989 until January 1995.
"I wish I could say it was merit and hard work, but I think so much of what happens in a political career is the result of circumstances that are favorable and opportunities that come about," Foley told the AP in 2003.
He said his proudest achievements were farm bills, anti-hunger programs, civil liberties, environmental legislation and civil rights bills. Helping individual constituents also was satisfying, he said. Even though his views were often considerably to the left of his mostly Republican constituents, he said he tried to stay in touch.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., tweeted Friday, "Tom Foley was a tireless, dedicated public servant for WA & the nation. I wouldn't be where I am today w/o his support. He'll be missed."
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the No. 4 House GOP leader who holds Foley's old eastern Washington seat, called him "an honorable leader and colleague" who was "highly regarded and respected by Democrats and Republicans."
After leaving Congress, he joined a blue chip law firm in Washington, D.C., and earned fees serving on corporate boards. Foley and his wife, his unpaid political adviser and staff aide, had built their dream home in the capital in 1992.
In 1997, he took one of the most prestigious assignments in diplomacy, ambassador to Japan. A longtime Japan scholar, Foley had been a frequent visitor to that nation, in part to promote the farm products his district produces.
"Diplomacy is not, frankly, very different" from the deal-making, consensus-building and common courtesy that a successful politician needs, he said.
In a statement, former President Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "Tom never forgot that principled compromise and respect for opposing viewpoints are essential foundations of our democracy — core convictions that also made him an outstanding Ambassador to Japan."
Foley's father, Ralph, was a judge for decades. His mother, Helen, was a teacher.
Foley attended Gonzaga Preparatory School and Gonzaga University in Spokane. He graduated from the University of Washington Law School and worked as a prosecutor and assistant state attorney general and as counsel for Jackson's Senate Interior Committee for three years.
Dan Evans, a Republican former governor and senator from Washington state, was among Foley's many fans.
"He was an unusually civil politician in an increasingly uncivil arena," Evans once said.