Updated at 4:32 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018.
Former U.S. Rep. Marilyn Lloyd, a Chattanooga Democrat who was the first woman elected to Congress from Tennessee for a full term, has died at age 89.
"It is with great sadness and joy that we inform you that our mom, Marilyn Lloyd, has passed into eternity," her family said in a statement. "[Wednesday] night at 9:30 p.m., she peacefully slipped into the arms of Jesus. While we will miss her terribly, we know that she is at home with the Lord. Knowing that, we have incredible joy and look forward to being with her again. Thank you for your many prayers and encouraging words over the last three weeks."
As news of her death spread, lawmakers and those who knew her shared their condolences.
"My prayers are with the Lloyd family," U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, said in a statement Thursday. "I thank Marilyn for her service to our great state in representing the wonderful people of Tennessee's Third District in the U.S. House of Representatives for 20 years. While I am saddened by her passing, the legacy of Marilyn Lloyd will forever be part of East Tennessee history."
Lloyd received the Democratic nomination for Congress in a special meeting in August 1974 after her husband, Mort, a longtime local news anchor, was killed in a plane crash in West Tennessee after winning the Democratic primary earlier that month. As a grieving widow in the Nixon resignation/Watergate year of 1974, she was able to beat two-term Congressman E. Lamar Baker.
During her tenure in Congress, 1975-1995, she served on the House Science Committee, Committee on Public Works, the Armed Services Committee and the House Select Committee on Aging. After her diagnosis of breast cancer in 1991, from which she recovered, she also co-sponsored the Mammography Quality Standards Act that became law in 1992.
In 1994, after nearly losing the general election race to Zach Wamp in 1992, she chose not to run; Wamp easily won the seat and served from 1995-2011.
Wamp called his predecessor a "trailblazing pioneer."
"Think about it," he said. "She was a Southern, conservative, female Democrat."
What distinguished her service in Congress was the fact that she put country first, he said.
"All along, she was a loyal Democrat, but she put country first, her district second, then the party," Wamp said.
Lloyd "showed us all how to live and serve with grace in the face of great losses over her life," he said, calling her a "wonderful mother ... who went through a lot of pain."
"She got every ounce of life out of her 89 years," Wamp said. "That's why this should be a celebration of her life. She is one of Tennessee's historic figures passing on."
After serving 20 years in Congress, Lloyd left without ever losing a race.
She knew the keys to successful service in Congress were responsive constituent services, effective communication and knowing the legislative process and using it effectively to benefit her district, Wamp said.
"She excelled in all three," he said. "She was 100 percent class in her service and through her extraordinary life. She earned every minute of her time in Congress."
Paul Smith, a longtime friend and former Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman, was campaign coordinator for Mort Lloyd when he was the Democratic nominee for Congress in the 3rd District in 1974. He was among those who talked Marilyn Lloyd into running for Congress and helped her defeat Baker, the two-term Republican.
"She was a great American who was devoted to her family, her constituents and her faith," Smith said. "She really cared about people, and I think the voters recognized that."
"Marilyn Lloyd stepped up in tragic circumstances and made history," U.S. Jim Cooper, D-Tennessee, said. "I was lucky to serve with her in Congress. She was a terrific legislator whose legacy will live on across Tennessee. My thoughts are with her family."
In Congress, Lloyd worked to get funding to expand Highway 153 over Chickamauga Dam, to add the C.B. Robinson Bridge over the Tennessee River and to secure funding for other projects for the Tennessee River Gorge, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Although she was a Democrat who supported Jimmy Carter for president, she parted with Carter in her support for the Air Force B-1 bomber and in her support for the Clinch River Breeder Reactor, which Carter deferred work on while in the White House.
Lloyd was the son of a Church of Christ minister, and her son, Mort, is now a Church of Christ minister.
"Her religion has always been a key part of her life," Smith said.
Garry Mac, who worked as the Chattanooga district director for Lloyd, recalled his time with the congresswoman.
"Of all my days working alongside Marilyn, there was one that stands out," he said Thursday. "We began the day in Oak Ridge, surrounded by some of the smartest people on the planet, talking about water-cooled nuclear reactors.
"Our last thing that day was a public meeting in Grundy County, touting a new business investment that would create about two dozen new jobs. The people there were excited because Marilyn was going to bring jobs that paid minimum wage. At the time, Grundy was one of the poorest counties in America.
"As we headed off of Grundy Mountain, Marilyn turned to me and said, 'This is the kind of day I enjoy. One where we have helped people at every level.'"
Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, now running for U.S. Senate, called Lloyd an "independent thinker" and advocate for the people of her district.
"Saddened to learn of the passing of Marilyn Lloyd, someone I am fortunate enough to have had the honor of knowing for many years," he said in a statement.
Lloyd was born Jan. 3, 1929, in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and attended Shorter College in Rome, Georgia.
She married twice while in Congress, once to engineer Joe Bouquard (they divorced) and once to the late Dr. Robert Fowler.
In addition to being a successful lawmaker, she was an accomplished businesswoman, having owned and operated a radio station, WTTI, in Dalton and Executive Aviation in Winchester, Tennessee.
In 1999, the Marilyn Lloyd Environmental and Life Sciences Research Complex at Oak Ridge National Laboratory was named in her honor.
During a 1994 interview on C-SPAN, she talked about being a woman in a male-dominated institution:
"Women had to work so hard to prove they were as effective as their male counterpart when I was elected to Congress. [Today], you can see we are accepted as counterparts in the Congress. You can see how far we have progressed, but I hope we do better in the next 20 years. I would think there would be more women [in Tennessee] who would think about coming to the Congress because I think it's the greatest public service you can offer next to the ministry. But you have to be very serious to get your point across — that you're for real. First of all, she has to have the confidence in herself — that she can do it. You have to work hard and let everybody know this is something that you want to do because you want to be a public servant. That's the essence of your service."
The family will receive friends at Chattanooga Church, 6188 Adamson Circle, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, with a celebration of life at 1 p.m. Sunday.