Lindy Boggs, the daughter of Louisiana aristocracy who spent 18 years in Congress as successor to her husband, House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, who was presumed killed after his airplane vanished over Alaska, has died. She was 97.
Boggs died today of natural causes at her home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, her daughter, ABC News journalist Cokie Roberts, told the Associated Press.
While neither the first nor the most powerful woman to serve in the House, Boggs was celebrated for her half-century association with Congress, first as a spouse, then as a member. She also was the driving force behind efforts to memorialize and commemorate the women of Congress.
A historic space in the U.S. Capitol reserved for female House members was dedicated to Boggs when she retired in 1991 -- the only room in the Capitol named for a woman, according to the Office of the House Historian. The Stennis Center for Public Service Leadership, created by Congress in 1988 and located in Starkville, Mississippi, bestows an annual Lindy Boggs Award to “a woman from the South who has demonstrated the ideals of patriotism, courage, integrity and leadership.”
Boggs capped her own public-service career by serving as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican from 1997 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton.
The family’s legacy in politics lived on through the three children of Lindy and Hale Boggs.
Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., known as Tommy, is chairman of the executive committee at Patton Boggs LLP, the Washington-based powerhouse lobbying firm he joined in 1966. Cokie Roberts is a longtime contributor to National Public Radio and political analyst for ABC News. Barbara Boggs Sigmund, who died in 1990, was mayor of Princeton, New Jersey. A fourth child, Billy, died days after his birth.
Marie Corinne Morrison Claiborne, an only child, was born March 13, 1916, on her maternal great-grandfather’s sugar plantation, called Brunswick, in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. Her lineage traced to William Claiborne, an early English settler at Jamestown, Virginia, in the 17th century, and also included the first governor of Louisiana, William Charles Cole Claiborne.
She became “Lindy” after her father, Roland, an attorney who died when she was 2. Her mother, the former Corinne Morrison, remarried five years later.
Boggs graduated from Catholic high school at 15 and entered Sophie Newcomb College, then the women’s affiliate of Tulane University in New Orleans. At a fraternity party, she was asked to dance by another freshman, Thomas Hale Boggs.
“He swirled me around for a moment, fairly awkwardly, and said, ‘I’m going to marry you some day,’” she recalled in a 1990 interview with C-Span.
They did marry, in 1938, three years after graduating from Tulane. Hale Boggs, who had started work in New Orleans as a lawyer, won election to the U.S. House in 1940, lost his re-election bid in 1942, then won again in 1946. He served in Congress until his death in 1972 at age 58.
In Washington, Lindy Boggs built a close circle of friends that included congressional wives Lady Bird Johnson, who would become first lady, and Pauline Gore, whose son, Al Gore, would become vice president, according to a 2009 profile in The Advocate newspaper of Baton Rouge.
In January 1971, House Democrats elevated Hale Boggs to majority leader, the second-ranking leadership post behind only the speaker, Carl Albert. As a party leader, he campaigned often for fellow Democrats, and in October 1972, he accompanied Democratic Congressman Nicholas Begich on a trip back home to Alaska to campaign for re-election.
Their twin-engine Cessna -- carrying a Begich aide and the pilot, along with the two congressmen -- vanished after departing Anchorage for a fundraiser in Juneau. A massive search was called off after 39 days, and the four men were presumed dead. When the new Congress convened on Jan. 3, 1973, it declared the Boggs seat vacant, clearing the way for a special election.
Sympathy for his widow morphed into a campaign. “I sort of found myself running,” Boggs recalled in the C-Span interview. “I never made a conscious decision to run.” She won the special election and took office on March 20, 1973, representing Louisiana’s 2nd congressional district, which includes New Orleans.
The redrawing of district lines in 1984 made Boggs the only white member of Congress representing a majority-black constituency. She continued winning re-election until stepping down at the start of 1991.
Her successor, Democrat William Jefferson, was convicted in 2009 of accepting more than $450,000 in bribes and sentenced to 13 years in prison.