Leonard L. Boswell, a farmer and a decorated retired Army officer who served 16 years in Congress as a Democrat from Iowa, died on Friday in Des Moines. He was 84.
His former chief of staff, Grant Woodard, said the death, at a hospital, was caused by complications of a rare form of cancer, pseudomyxoma peritonei, which typically attacks the abdomen and pelvis. Mr. Boswell lived in rural Decatur County, in southern Iowa.
Courtly and plain-spoken, Mr. Boswell gained national attention in his first race for Congress, in 1996, when he and his Republican opponent, Michael Mahaffey, stuck to their pledge not to attack each other personally, though national party leaders tried to talk them out of it.
Both men were vying for an open seat — Mr. Boswell after serving 12 years in the Iowa Senate — and Mr. Boswell won the race narrowly.
In the House he focused on agriculture, student financial aid, and services for veterans and their families.
His signature bill became the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, enacted in 2007. It was named after an Iowa Army reservist who committed suicide in 2005 after returning from Iraq.
The measure, which Mr. Boswell sponsored, called for the Department of Veterans Affairs to devise a comprehensive program to prevent suicide among troubled veterans. It has led the government to hire more counselors and create hotlines for them.
Mr. Boswell was chairman of the House agriculture subcommittee on livestock and helped write the 2007 Farm Bill. He also served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
On education, Mr. Boswell supported expansion of the Pell Grant program and pushed for additional spending on student loan subsidies.
He served eight terms in the House until losing his re-election bid in 2012 to Representative Tom Latham, a Republican. Both were incumbents; they faced each other because of redistricting.
Leonard Leroy Boswell was born on Jan. 10, 1934, in Harrison County, Mo., but grew up on a farm in Iowa, receiving a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa.
He was drafted into the Army in the mid-1950s and stayed on for 20 years, rising to lieutenant colonel. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam as an assault helicopter pilot, earning two Bronze Stars and two Distinguished Flying Crosses. He was also an instructor at the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Survivors include his wife, Dody; three daughters, Terri Bruun, Diana Boswell Redford and Cindy Brown; a son, Joe; a sister, La Rita Boswell; eight grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild, The Des Moines Register reported.
Mr. Woodard noted that Mr. Boswell was born and raised on a farm and had for much of his life carved out a living from the land in Decatur County. Indeed, Mr. Boswell often spoke with particular pride at having served on the board of the Farmers Co-op Elevator in Lamoni.
“I don’t think you can get much more Iowan than that,” Mr. Woodard said.
The New York Times contributed reporting.