TN State Rep. Lois DeBerry Has Died

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(Memphis) People in Memphis and across the state of Tennessee are remembering the life and legacy of State Representative Lois M. DeBerry.

The longest serving Member of the House of Representatives is being remembered for her four decades of service to the people of Memphis.

DeBerry died Sunday after a battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 68. She was surrounded by family and friends.

Her career in the legislature was one for the history books.

The south Memphis democrat was elected in 1972. She was re-elected an astounding 20 straight times.

She was the first female to ever serve as Speaker Pro Tempore. She served in that position for more than 20 years, the longest in state history.

She returned to Nashville, year after year, fighting for her constituents.

"She intentionally focused on tough issues, daring others to join her and, by her words, could inspire people to get involved," says State Senator Lowe Finney.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton called DeBerry an advocate whose passion for the people knew no bounds.

"Of all the attributes that defined her, Lois' faith and signature outspokenness earned her the respect of her colleagues and the adoration of the community she called home," Mayor Wharton said.

DeBerry even won over people across the political aisle, including Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. Governor Haslam says she quickly became one of his favorite people on Capital Hill because of her wit, charm and dedication.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell says DeBerry was a champion for her constituents.

"She was just a crusader for all things good about Memphis. She was quiet in her work and someone who was truly a public servant in every sense of the word," said Luttrell.

Congressman Steve Cohen worked side by side with DeBerry in the state legislature.

He says he saw the difference she made every day.

Her life, he says, was a life well-lived.

Rep. Deberry is survived by her husband, son and other family members. Funeral arrangements have not been finalized.

Here are some of the statements released following Rep. DeBerry's death.

Tennessee Board of Parole Chairman Richard Montgomery:

“Lois DeBerry was a great legislator. But she was also a good friend to me. She mentored me and many other new lawmakers when we first came to the General Assembly to serve. For 14 years, Lois and I served together on many of the same committees as we worked to improve education in our state. She broke ground for women as the first woman elected to the legislature from the City of Memphis, and as the first woman to be elected speaker pro     tempore of the state House of Representatives. And she served beyond Tennessee as president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. But beyond that, she was a fighter; someone who fought to protect and improve the lives of children and others in this state. She continued her efforts to help people until the end, and the good she did will live beyond her in many, many ways.”

U.S. Senator Bob Corker:

“Lois DeBerry will be remembered as a tireless advocate for her community, and as one of the longest-serving women lawmakers in the nation and the first African-American female speaker pro tempore in the House, Lois’ legacy will be remembered in Memphis and across our state for generations to come,” said Corker. “I appreciate her many years of public service and her friendship and kindness. My heart goes out to her family during this difficult time.”

TN Governor Bill Haslam:

"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."

Rep. Steve Cohen:

“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. It was an honor to serve with Lois and see the difference she made each and every day. Hers was truly a life well lived.”