Someone once observed that whenever three South Hills residents gathered, James G. Fulton was usually one of them.
The Dormont Republican served 28 years in the U.S. Congress and appeared regularly at fish fries, civic seminars, covered dish picnics and neighborhood carnivals hosted by volunteer fire departments.
The son of a banker, Fulton supported civil rights, women’s rights, labor unions and funding for the U.S. space program. When he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1944, Fulton was serving with the U.S. Naval Reserves in the Pacific.
He understood the value of putting a personal touch on his dealings with constituents. He coaxed the U.S. Air Force into flying Vietnam veterans home for weddings. He welcomed Pittsburgh visitors to his art-filled office on Capitol Hill and escorted them to the U.S. House of Representatives. He obtained flags flown over the U.S. Capitol for veterans’ groups.
In 1968, he hosted a free, afternoon gathering at Pittsburgh’s Downtown Hilton Hotel to promote Vice President Richard Nixon’s candidacy for the White House. To lure guests, he promised to give away 50 good women’s hats at the political event, which featured a live orchestra, cake and coffee. Today, he would probably be giving away free iPhones.
A ranking GOP member of the House Science and Astronautics Committee, he also served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. His last act on the House floor was to demand a roll call vote on a resolution calling for the humane treatment and reslease of U.S. war prisoners held by North Vietnam and its allies in Asia. The resolution passed with 369 favorable votes and none opposed.
In the late 1950s, Fulton bought the two stone piers leftover from the Wabash Bridge that still stand in the Monongahela River. Fulton considered using the eight-story piers as observation decks or even a restaurant venue but his plans never bore fruit.
He fended off opponents handily, including Mrs. Margaret Walgren of Mt. Lebanon, who challenged him for his seat in 1961. Nine years later, in 1970, he beat her son, Doug Walgren, by 30,000 votes.
An attorney and Harvard Law School graduate, Fulton died of a heart attack in 1971. He did not have a will so his art collection was auctioned in Washington, D.C. an another auction was held here in Pittsburgh. He owned about 1,000 art objects, including oil paintings, porcelains, antique furniture, rare books and carved wooden religious figures.
On his passing, The Pittsburgh Press observed that the late congressman had “turned political sociability into a fine art.”