LOS ANGELES -- Mervyn Dymally, a one-time janitor who rose to become the first black to serve in the California Senate and as the state's lieutenant governor, has died at the age of 86.
Dymally, whose health had been in decline, died Sunday in Los Angeles, his wife Alice Gueno Dymally said in a statement.
"He lived a very extraordinary life and had no regrets," Mrs. Dymally said.
The Trinidad-born Dymally was also a former teacher and union organizer before embarking on a political career in 1963 that lasted more than 40 years. He served in both houses of the state Legislature and in Congress representing Compton and its surrounding area.
He was elected as the state's first foreign-born black assemblyman in 1962, the first black senator in 1966, the first and only black lieutenant governor in 1974 and went on to win his congressional seat in 1980. In Congress, he served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and the House Foreign Affairs Committee where he championed economic and humanitarian aid for Africa.
He took a 10-year retirement before running again at age 76 for the Assembly seat he held at the start of his political career. He won two more terms and ran, at 82, for the state Senate again in 2008, but lost the Democratic primary to Rod Wright.
During his time in politics Dymally was also tainted by numerous investigations of fraud, bribery and pay-for-play campaign contributions.
Such allegations, including unsubstantiated claims he would be indicted by the federal government, eventually led to his defeat in his 1978 bid for re-election as lieutenant governor.
Dymally maintained that he never acted illegally and said the probes were politically motivated. No charges were ever filed.
"We politicians ... think we are very important, but we are not that important, and regular people don't seem to be that concerned about a lot of the legislation that we pass," he told the Associated Press in a 2002 interview. "My legacy has not been my legislation. My legacy has been my openness."
In his final years, the tireless Dymally lead a health institute at the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science in South Los Angeles. The university's nursing school bears his name.
"His dedication to public service continued when he left politics and his legacy will be long remembered," Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. He called Dymally "a trailblazer in every sense of the word."
Dymally was born May 12, 1926, in Trinidad. After graduating from high school, he worked as a reporter for The Vanguard, a weekly newspaper published by a labor union.
He came to the United States when he was 19 to attend college and earned a bachelor's degree in education from Los Angeles State College, now Los Angeles State University, in 1954.
He later received a master's degree in government from Sacramento State University and a doctorate in human behavior from United States International University, now Alliant International University, in San Diego.
After graduating from Los Angeles State, Dymally taught exceptional children in the Los Angeles School District for six years and worked for a year for the state disaster relief office. Other jobs included working as a janitor and union organizer.
He also became involved in Democratic Party politics. He was vice chairman of the California Youth for Kennedy Committee during John F. Kennedy's campaign for president in 1960 and then served as treasurer of the California Federation of Young Democrats.
Besides his wife, Dymally was survived by his son Mark and daughter Lynn.
Plans for a memorial service were pending.