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Former Congressman Jim Oberstar of Minnesota dies at age 79

(Reuters) - Jim Oberstar, who represented northeastern Minnesota for 36 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and rose to a key position for transportation and infrastructure, died on Saturday at age 79, his family said.

Oberstar, a Democrat, was defeated in his 2010 bid for re-election, ending the longest tenure in Minnesota history for a member of Congress. He remained in the Washington, D.C., area after his defeat and died at home in Potomac, Maryland, said a family spokesman.

Oberstar died unexpectedly in his sleep and is survived by his wife, Jean, and six children, the statement said.

"We are heartbroken to share the news that Jim Oberstar has passed way," the family said. "Jim was a loving husband, father, grandfather, friend and brother. While we mourn the loss of a good man, we also celebrate his life and his service."

He had been chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee.

Oberstar helped pass some key federal legislation, including

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which funded transportation infrastructure projects to create jobs and boost the economy after the recession.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton expressed his condolences to Oberstar's family in a statement.

"He worked tirelessly to bring jobs, economic growth, and a better quality of life to his constituents," Dayton, a Democrat, said.

(Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Mo.; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Nick Zieminski)

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