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Greater Metro

Community champion Rep. Lois DeBerry dies at 68

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"Christian, trailblazer, role model, a strong advocate for children, education and promoting women, fighter, leader, mentor, and most importantly a friend who supported and helped many in so many ways. She was strong, stern and no-nonsense, but very kind, compassionate and big- hearted."

That's the reflection of Gales Jones Carson, a member of the Democratic National Committee, upon the passing Sunday of State Rep. Lois DeBerry, the longest serving member in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Carson's reflection has elements echoed by many.

With family and friends nearby, Rep. DeBerry, 68, died about 12:30 p.m. at Methodist Hospital South. The way she handled her extended challenge from pancreatic cancer was emblematic of how she lived her life and served her district in South Memphis.

Rep. DeBerry was the first female Speaker Pro-Tempore and is the second African-American to serve in that capacity. She grew up in Memphis and graduated from Hamilton High School and LeMoyne-Owen College.

This statement was issued on behalf of her family:

"For more than 40 years, Lois M. DeBerry served the citizens of the 91st District of Tennessee and the entire State. Today, she passed comfortably surrounded by family and friends. Representative DeBerry represented this community with passion and dedication across the nation and world. For her, there was no greater cause than serving. Children, her community, and most importantly her family, were her passions."

Rep. DeBerry's family includes her husband, Charles Traughber, and her son, Michael Boyer. Arrangements are pending.

Expressions and reflections about Rep. DeBerry have been numerous and widespread.

"I talked to Lois a great deal about life, decisions and the political world," said Carson. "Whenever I needed her advice, she would answer my phone calls and advise me. She always gave wise advice that I did not steer from. I respected and trusted her, I believed in her – she could get things done that many others could not."

Carson said one of her big political goals was to serve as a member of the Democratic National Committee and that Rep. DeBerry played a key role in making that happen.

"After waiting for about 10-years, I was faced with the opportunity to run for an open seat on the DNC representing the state of Tennessee. Others wanted Lois to run but she chose to help me achieve my dream. Thanks to Lois, I am a member of the DNC – I will always be indebted to her for that."

In 1999, Carson lost her 17-year-old son, Jason, and DeBerry's support was immense, she said.

"Just a few months ago – when she was ill – she supported my son Bryan when he ran for the Chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party. On March 16th, the first day of the Shelby County Democratic Party's Convention, she texted me at 4:23 a.m. She wrote, 'Ok, I am just getting home because my potassium was so low that I had to get two liters of potassium but if you need me, I will be there.'

"That's true friendship, that's Lois DeBerry," said Carson. "There for everyone she cared about no matter what – never putting her health or needs before the needs of others."

Other reflections

Mayor A C Wharton Jr.:

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the family of Speaker Pro Tempore Lois DeBerry.

"For those in political circles, she was Speaker DeBerry, a trusted partner and consummate advocate for the people of Memphis and our state. Many of her friends and people across the community, however, also knew her as Lady D – an intelligent, cosmopolitan, personality whose passion for the people she served knew no bounds. ...

"Despite the accolades she continually received throughout her career, Lois remained equally at home among the well-to-do and political powerful as well as the residents in the neighborhoods of her district. She was unquestionably a woman of the people who never lost the common touch.

"And of all of 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. In fact, her willingness to speak up and speak out for the voiceless was in her view a consequence of her discipleship and the Christian admonition to minister to 'the least of' our brothers and sisters.

"Lois DeBerry represented the best of us, and I am proud to say that she was my friend. I know that this sentiment is shared by thousands of others who will miss both her leadership and friendship."

Shelby County Mayor Mark H. Luttrell Jr.:

"Representative DeBerry served Tennessee's General Assembly with honor and distinction. She was a true champion of civil rights and fought to ensure the needs of all citizens were represented during her decades of service in Nashville.

"Representative DeBerry had a determined spirit that not only led to a more effective state government but inspired those of us at the local level as well. All of us at Shelby County Government share in the sorrow of her passing."

Tomeka Hart:

"I've always admired the wisdom, strength and passion for service of Lois DeBerry. When I decided to run for office, she was one of few local women in politics that I admired and desired to emulate. I loved that she always had a nugget of guidance whenever I'd see her. She was a jewel, a servant leader – she will be sorely missed!"

Congressman Steve Cohen:

"Tennessee has lost a legend today," said Cohen. "Speaker Pro Tempore Emeritus Lois DeBerry was an historic African American legislator and a go to person on everything from civil rights to children's and women's issues. ...

"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."

State Sen. Jim Kyle:

"Lois DeBerry was a peerless leader for her community, her city and for all women....It's a uniquely American story – a woman who became frustrated with the conditions in her community and dedicated her life to making it better, rising to heights that no African American woman had seen before in Tennessee. We are deeply saddened by her passing."

State Sen. Lowe Finney:

"Before I ever ran for office, I was motivated and inspired by the leadership of Lois DeBerry. She intentionally focused on tough issues, daring others to join her, and by her words could inspire people to take action and get involved. Tennessee has lost a great leader today."

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.:

"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."