State Rep. Lois DeBerry has died after a nearly five-year bout with pancreatic cancer.
Her nephew, Gary DeBerry, told The Associated Press that the 68-year-old Democrat died Sunday at a Memphis hospital surrounded by family and friends.
DeBerry was first elected in 1972. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only two other female lawmakers elected that year are currently serving.
DeBerry was the longest-serving member of the state House of Representatives and second-longest in the entire Tennessee General Assembly.
She was also the first female speaker pro tempore in the House and the second African-American woman to serve in the General Assembly.
DeBerry was first diagnosed with cancer in 2009.
DeBerry was a close friend of former Vice President Al Gore and she gave a rousing presidential nominating speech for Gore at the Democratic National Convention in 2000.
In a statement, former house speaker, Jimmy Naifeh, said, "Lois loved this state. She loved the people of this state. She was the voice for people all across this state, who could not speak out for themselves in our governmental process; the poor, the oppressed, the proverbial people standing in the shadows of life. She rebuffed repeated calls to run for higher office. In 1994 she even turned down a prestigious federal appointment from President Clinton, telling him that her work in Tennessee was simply not finished."
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam added, "Lois was a history maker, a wonderful woman, a great legislator and a true friend. I will miss her."
Republican Senator Jack Johnson said Rep. DeBerry will be missed by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
"Philosophically, she and I probably did not agree on many issues," said Johnson. "But she was such a wonderful lady. And I'm so saddened by her passing."