(CHEVY CHASE, Md.) -- Former Rep. Lindy Boggs, who filled her husband's seat in the House of Representatives after his plane disappeared and went on to serve 18 years as a tireless advocate for women and minorities, died Saturday at the age of 97.
Born in Coupee Parish, La., in 1916, Marie Corinne Morrison Claiborne graduated from Tulane University, where she met her future husband, Thomas Hale Boggs Sr., while working on the student newspaper.
The two married in 1938, and two years later Hale Boggs won election to the House, launching a long and prominent career that would include the role of House majority leader.
Hale and Lindy Boggs would become a political power couple, representing Louisiana in Congress for nearly a half century combined.
Lindy Boggs ran her husband's re-election campaigns, worked as a member of his House staff, and advised him on politics. When Hale Boggs's plane went missing over Alaska in 1973, Lindy took over his House seat in a special election. She would serve until retiring in 1990.
Boggs was the first woman to represent Louisiana in Congress.
She entered the House with longstanding relationships with lawmakers, and House leadership created an extra seat for her on the Committee on Banking and Currency, on which her husband had served as a freshman.
Boggs became a champion of equal rights for women. When the Banking committee marked up the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, Boggs added a provision barring discrimination over sex or marital status -- without telling her colleagues first, inserting the language on her own and photocopying new versions of the bill.
"Knowing the members composing this committee as well as I do, I'm sure it was just an oversight that we didn't have 'sex' or 'marital status' included," Boggs told her colleagues, according to the House historian's office. "I've taken care of that, and I trust it meets with the committee's approval."
The committee approved the bill unanimously.
Boggs became the only white member of Congress representing a majority-black constituency, after her district was redrawn in 1984 in response to a federal court order mandating Louisiana's first majority-black district. She also became the first woman to preside over a national political convention, the 1976 Democratic National Convention that nominated Jimmy Carter.
A Roman Catholic, Boggs served as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican under President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001, after retiring from the House.
"As the first woman elected to Congress in Louisiana, and as the first female Chair of the Democratic National Convention, Lindy no doubt left her mark on history," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Saturday. "She lived a life of service, carrying on for those who couldn't and speaking up for those who didn't have a voice in the halls of Congress. Lindy was a true fighter, but she did it with incredible grace and the people of Louisiana are grateful for her service."
“More than anyone in the House, she commanded the respect, admiration and affection of Members on both sides of the aisle,” said Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi in a statement Saturday.
“Hillary and I were saddened to learn of the passing of Lindy Boggs,” said former President Bill Clinton in a statement. “A dedicated public servant with a keen intelligence and enduring charm, Lindy was a true original.”
“The country has lost a champion for civil rights and a trailblazer for women, and our thoughts and prayers are with her family and her legions of friends and supporters,” he said.
Boggs's three children have all held notable careers.
Her daughter Cokie Roberts went on to become a nationally known journalist at NPR, PBS and ABC News. Her daughter Barbara Boggs Sigmund served as mayor of Princeton, N.J., before dying of cancer in 1990. Her son Thomas Hale Boggs, Jr. works as a prominent lobbyist and lawyer in Washington, D.C.
Roberts said her mother died of natural causes in her home in Chevy Chase, Md.
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