In her 41 years in the Tennessee House, Representative Lois DeBerry fought many battles. But it was a battle waged within her own body that proved to be the toughest. DeBerry lost her fight with pancreatic cancer on Sunday. She was 68.
Elected to the state House in 1972, the Memphis Democrat often pushed legislation that she hoped would help minorities and the poor. Fellow Democrats reacted with sorrow to the news of her death, but with pride to her accomplishments. Governor Bill Haslam called her a true friend, and noted DeBerry’s wit and dedication. U.S. Senator Bob Corker said her legacy will remembered for generations to come.
DeBerry was initially diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2009. She underwent both chemotherapy and surgery to combat the disease, and initial signs showed improvement. But in recent years, the cancer returned. In an interview with the Associated Press, DeBerry said that was when she thought about abandoning the fight. But, she said, support from her legislative colleagues, family, friends and constituents convinced her otherwise.
Rep. DeBerry's 41-year tenure in the Tennessee House will be remembered for noteworthy barriers she broke. She served as the first female Speaker Pro Tempore of the House, and remains the only African-American to hold that post. At the time of her death, she also held the record for longest-serving representative in state House history.
Funeral and memorial arrangements for Rep. Lois DeBerry were pending as of late Sunday night.