Otis Pike, former First District congressman, dies at 92

PIKE FAMILY COURTESY PHOTO | A recent photo of Otis Pike playing the ukulele at a family party.
PIKE FAMILY COURTESY PHOTO | A recent photo of Otis Pike playing a banjo at a family party.

Longtime East End Congressman Otis Pike died in Vero Beach, Fla., Monday. He was 92. 

Mr. Pike, a Democrat in a largely Republican area, represented the First District in Congress for 18 years, starting at a time when the district covered all of Suffolk County and part of Nassau County, said his daughter, Lois Pike Eyre of Riverhead.

He also was a Riverhead Town Councilman/Justice for seven years before being elected to Congress. (The councilmen served a dual role as justices of the peace at that time.)

Mr. Pike spent 20 years as a syndicated newspaper columnist for Newhouse Newspapers after leaving Congress.

Before getting into politics, Mr. Pike was a decorated Marine pilot during World War II, where he flew dive bombers and night fighters in the Pacific, Ms. Pike Eyre said.

“He was proud of that,” she recalled. “He earned a Silver Star.”

Ms. Pike Eyre said her father was involved in politics almost as long as she can remember.

“I was five when he was elected as justice of the peace in Riverhead, and he was still in Congress long after I graduated college,” Ms. Pike Eyre recalled.

Mr. Pike was the First District Congressman from 1961 to Jan. 3, 1979. He lost an election for the congressional seat in 1958, but then never lost another one, having chosen not to seek reelection in 1978.

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NEWS-REVIEW ARCHIVES | Otis Pike announced in February 1978 that he wouldn't be seeking reelection.
NEWS-REVIEW ARCHIVES | Otis Pike announced in February 1978 he wouldn’t be seeking reelection.

“He was sort of a bigger than life guy,” said a longtime friend, Irene Pendzick of Riverhead. “You thought of him as a people’s congressman. When he was home from Congress, he would be working on his boat on the Peconic River. You’d never know he was a congressman. Dressed in these paint-stained pants and an old shirt.”

Mr. Pendzick said Mr. Pike was an environmentalist before it was fashionable.

“He saved thousands and thousands of acres,” she said.

“I feel like an era has passed when somebody like him Otis dies,” she added. “He was in elected office at a time when it was a public service. Not this stuff we have today.”

Land next to the Enterprise Park at Calverton is called the Otis G. Pike Preserve, and he also has a preserve named for him on Fire Island, his daughter said.

Ms. Pike Eyre said her father was famous for wearing a bow tie, and he loved music.

“He used to play the ukelele when he was campaigning and he would write songs about political situations that were appropriate to the occasion. They were very funny,” she said.

Mr. Pike also played the banjo and encouraged all of his children to play instruments, she said.

He moved to Florida shortly after his retirement from Congress, his daughter said.

When family members went down to Florida to visit him at Christmas, they all brought their instruments — her husband, John Eyre, even purchased a used keyboard from a Florida store — and they played music for the neighbors, Ms. Pike Eyre said.

Mr. Pike married Doris Orth in 1946 and the couple stayed married until her death in 1996. In addition to Ms. Pike Eyre, they had two sons, Douglas Pike of Paoli, Pa., and Robert Pike of Riverhead, himself a former town councilman, who died in 2010.

Mr. Pike’s second wife, Barbe Bonjour Pike, is a former Riverhead Free Library director whom he  married in June 2003, Mr. Pike Eyre said.

Mr. Pike had been ill in recent years, and was in a hospice facility toward the end of his life, his daughter said.

A memorial service for him will be announced at a future date, she said.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Planned Parenthood, the Riverhead Free Library, the Nature Conservancy or a local public television or public radio station, Ms. Pike Eyre said.

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UNITED STATES CONGRESS | Otis Pike in about 1970.