Longtime Tennessee State Senator Thelma Harper dead at 80

Local News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Longtime Tennessee State Senator Thelma Harper has died at the age of 80.

The Tennessee Senate Democratic Press Caucus Secretary confirmed to News 2 Senator Harper’s passing. She represented Nashville in the State Senate for three decades, serving the 19th District.

She was the longest-serving female State Senator in Tennessee history and the first African-American woman to be elected State Senator in 1991.

The Senate Democratic Caucus issued a joint statement on Senator Harper’s death.

“As the first African-American woman elected to the state Senate and the longest-serving female senator in Tennessee history, Sen. Harper was a trailblazer who accomplished as much in her decades of public service as any Tennessee legend who came before her. But she never let awards and accolades come before the work of the people. Whether she was fighting landfills for her neighbors, serving a community organization or leading a hearing in the legislature, Thelma Harper was a strong voice for her community, for justice and our most vulnerable children. While this is a sad day for Tennessee, our state is a better place for her legacy of leadership. Thelma Harper loved the Tennessee Senate and the Tennessee Senate loved her right back.”

Nashville Mayor John Cooper released the following statement on the passing of Senator Harper:

Thelma Harper was the woman with the big hats and the giant heart. She walked in dignity and led with love.

She forged paths in government and business for generations who come after her.

As one of Tennessee’s longest-serving legislators, she fought for children, women, and the elderly. Where we see the progress that has made our community more just, we see Thelma.

And Thelma was a legendary Nashvillian.

She represented District 2 for two terms on Metro Council. Her presence was so iconic, she was selected to co-chair Metro’s 50th birthday celebration.

She was famous for her love of Tennessee State University, her alma mater, and for her joyful citywide Easter Egg hunts.

Laura and I join all the Tennesseans who miss and honor her. We send our warmest condolences to her family and friends.”

Lt. Governor Randy McNally posted a tribute on his Facebook page to Sen. Harper, calling her “a fierce advocate for her constituents and the city of Nashville.”

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