Tributes to Lois DeBerry

Here are some comments on the passing of state Rep. Lois DeBerry:

From House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh:

“I have known Lois DeBerry since 1974 when I was first elected to the House of Representatives. She had been elected just two years earlier and we were best friends from the very beginning. 

“Lois is a true Tennessee stateswoman. In the Legislature she led the way on a number of issues important to all Tennesseans including healthcare, education, corrections oversight, and economic development. The Lois DeBerry Center in Nashville, named after her, revolutionized the way we dealt with our incarcerated population and she deserves much of the credit for bringing our prison system out from under federal oversight and into the 21st century.  

She served with, worked with and provided advice not only to legislators but also to seven Tennessee Governors including Governors Haslam, Bredesen, Sundquist, McWherter, Alexander, Blanton and Dunn.  They all respected her opinion and listened closely to her advice.   

During my 18 years as Speaker of the House, Lois served as Speaker Pro Tempore–the first African American woman to fill this role. She was my constant helpmate and someone I could count on during those difficult days in the legislature. In 2000, the National Conference of State Legislators recognized Lois with the William Bulger Award for Legislative Leadership. This prestigious prize is given to one legislator each year who promotes the good of legislative institutions by displaying real leadership qualities, including honesty, integrity and hard work. That was the Lois we all knew. 

 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. 

I will miss Lois DeBerry. I will miss sitting with her on the floor of the House Chamber. I will miss her laughter and her great sense of humor that I saw so often in our daily discussions. I will miss her example and her leadership for our state. But most of all, I will miss my best friend.”

From House Speaker Beth Harwell:

“Lois DeBerry dedicated her life to service. From the Civil Rights Movement, to becoming the first female African-American Speaker Pro Tempore, Lois always made public service a priority. The impact she has had on this great state, the lives of countless Tennesseans, and people all across the country is astounding. She certainly made her mark on history, and it was an honor to know her and serve alongside her in Tennessee General Assembly. I valued our friendship, and will deeply miss her sage advice, and her remarkable sprit and smile. Her dedication to children’s issues, women’s issues, and criminal justice reform have resulted in a better Tennessee. My thoughts and prayers are with her family.”

From House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh:

“Lois DeBerry was my friend and my mentor. From my first day on the hill in 1994, she was someone I could turn to in every situation. She taught me the importance of working across party lines to get things done for the state, but also to never be afraid to stand up for a cause–even if sometimes you stand alone. Lois was a fighter. She always fought and fought hardest for children. She fought for those on the margins of society and for the city of Memphis which she loved so dearly. Most recently she waged a courageous battle against cancer, inspiring everyone with her upbeat attitude and her determination to survive. I loved Lois DeBerry. Her absence will leave a hole in the House that no one can fill; we are a better state for the service she provided. God rest her soul and be with her family during this difficult time.”

From Gov. Bill Haslam:

Coming in as a new governor, Lois quickly became one of my favorite people on Capitol Hill because of her wit, charm and dedication to her constituents. Lois was a history maker, a wonderful woman, a great legislator and a true friend. I will miss her.”

From Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron:

“Speaker Lois DeBerry was one of America’s Heroes and one of God’s Saints. “So many of us owe her so much. Speaker DeBerry led, she inspired, she witnessed with a spirit filled with The Spirit.
“Much will be said in the days ahead. Not enough can be said. We mourn her passing and celebrate her life.”
From U.S. Sen. Bob Corker:
“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.”
From Senate Minority Leader 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.”
From Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman 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.”
From House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick:
“I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Speaker Pro Tempore Emeritus Lois DeBerry, a legendary figure in Tennessee political history. I had the distinct privilege to serve with Lois in the House of Representatives for 9 years and I enjoyed our friendship. Her knowledge, experience and delightful personality will surely be missed. My thoughts and prayers are with her family during this difficult time.”
Former Gov. Phil Bredesen (via CA story, HERE)
“Forget Democrat. Forget African-American. Forget state legislator. Lois is one of the individuals I trust the most for her counsel and advice,”