Longtime Tenn. lawmaker Lois DeBerry dies at 68


| Zoom

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee Rep. Lois DeBerry, one of the longest-serving women lawmakers in the nation and a powerful influence in state politics, died Sunday after a nearly five-year bout with pancreatic cancer. She was 68.

The Memphis Democrat was surrounded by family and friends when she died at a Memphis hospital, her nephew, Gary DeBerry, told The Associated Press.

First elected in 1972, DeBerry was the longest-serving member of the state House of Representatives. Nationwide, only two other female lawmakers elected in 1972 are still serving, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

She also was the second African-American woman to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly.

As the first female speaker pro tempore in the House, she was respected by her colleagues, who gave her the honorary title of speaker emeritus. Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle sought her support on key legislation.

She was a close friend of former Vice President Al Gore for more than 30 years and gave a rousing presidential nominating speech for Gore at the Democratic National Convention in 2000.

"The Gore campaign at that time needed a sparkplug, someone to stand up and give a ... call to action," recalled Rep. John DeBerry, a distant relative who served with her for more than 20 years in the Legislature. "And Lois was chosen for that. She brought him on to a rousing applause."

DeBerry pushed legislation to benefit poor people, children, senior citizens and college students. One proposal was aimed at keeping students out of debt by restricting credit card companies from soliciting on college and university campuses.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. said DeBerry's faith and outspokenness earned her the adoration of many in the Memphis community.

"For those in political circles, she was Speaker DeBerry, a trusted partner and consummate advocate for the people of Memphis and our state," Wharton said in a statement. "Many of her friends and people across the community, however, also knew her as Lady D _ an intelligent, cosmopolitan, personality whose passion for the people she served knew no bounds."

She continued to serve in the Legislature, despite her chemotherapy treatments and illness.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said her resilience in her final days was "unbelievable."

"We'd say, why is she doing this? It's got to be painful, it's got to be very stressful on her," the Ripley Democrat said. "She was one of a kind, there's no question."


(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Top Stories

  • Pot Machines
    Marijuana vending machines might be coming to Washington state
ATTENTION COMMENTERS: We've changed our comments, but want to keep you in the conversation.
Please login below with your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Disqus account. Existing MyNorthwest account holders will need to create a new Disqus account or use one of the social logins provided below. Thank you.
comments powered by Disqus
Sign up for breaking news e-mail alerts from MyNorthwest.com
In the community
Do you know a student who stands out in the classroom, school and community?
Help make their dreams come true by nominating them for a $1,000 scholarship and a chance to earn a $10,000 Grand Prize. Brought to you by KIRO Radio and Comprehensive Wealth Management.

Do you know an exceptional citizen who has impacted and inspired others?
KIRO Radio and WSECU would like to recognize six oustanding citizens this year. Nominate them to be recognized and to receive a $2,000 charitable grant.