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Former Congresswoman and Ambassador Lindy Boggs Dies at 97
PHOTO: Lindy Claiborne Boggs

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 today at the age of 97.

"She was remarkable in every way," ABC's Cokie Roberts, one of Boggs's three children, said. "She was able to accomplish a great deal for a great many people around the country and around the world, but doing it in an always gracious, always pleasant way that would serve as a great lesson for folks of today who think that the only way to operate is through confrontation and criticism."

President Obama honored Boggs in a statement.

"Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to the family and loved ones of Lindy Boggs. Her legacy as a champion of women's and civil rights over her nine terms in office as the first woman elected to the United States Congress from Louisiana will continue to inspire generations to come," Obama said Saturday.

Born on a plantation 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.

PHOTOS: In Memoriam: Former Rep. Lindy Boggs of Louisiana Dies at 97

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.

"She was the first woman to do most of the things she did," Roberts said.

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. In that role, Boggs drew attention to sex slavery as a global women's issue.

Bill Clinton and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton released a joint statement on Boggs's passing.

"Hillary and I were saddened to learn of the passing of Lindy Boggs. A dedicated public servant with a keen intelligence and enduring charm, Lindy was a true original," they said. "Whether representing her Louisiana neighbors in the House or her country as Ambassador to the Vatican, she was as graceful as she was effective. 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."

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, R, also released a statement praising Boggs's life and career.

"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," Jindal said. "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."

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.

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