NASHVILLE — Tennessee lawmakers react to the death of state Rep. Lois DeBerry, one of the longest-serving women lawmakers in the nation and a powerful influence in state politics. She died Sunday at a Memphis hospital at age 68.
First elected in 1972, DeBerry was the longest-serving member of the state House of Representatives. She also was the second African-American woman to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly and the first female speaker pro tempore in the House.
“Coming in as a new governor, Lois quickly became one of my favorite people on Capitol Hill because of her wit, charm and dedication to her constituents. Lois was a history maker, a wonderful woman, a great legislator and a true friend. I will miss her.”
— Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.
“As the longest-serving member of the House, her fame was greatest in her hometown but the respect she earned extended nationally among members of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials and the Deltas. Since being elected in 1972, she always served her community in a special manner and gave so much back. She will be sorely missed by all of those she helped.”
— U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis.
“Lois DeBerry was a peerless leader for her community, her city and for all women. It’s a uniquely American story — a woman who became frustrated with the conditions in her community and dedicated her life to making it better, rising to heights that no African American woman had seen before in Tennessee.”
— State Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis.
“Before I ever ran for office, I was motivated and inspired by the leadership of Lois DeBerry. She intentionally focused on tough issues, daring others to join her, and by her words could inspire people to take action and get involved.”
— State Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson.
“Lois is a true Tennessee stateswoman. In the Legislature, she led the way on a number of issues important to all Tennesseans including health care, education, corrections oversight, and economic development. The Lois DeBerry Center in Nashville, named after her, revolutionized the way we dealt with our incarcerated population and she deserves much of the credit for bringing our prison system out from under federal oversight and into the 21st century.”
— Former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh.