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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,”
 

Rep. Lois DeBerry Undergoing Cancer Treatment

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — State Rep. Lois DeBerry is undergoing treatment for a recurrence of pancreatic cancer.
The Memphis Democrat was first elected in 1972 and is the longest-serving current member of the House of Representatives and second-longest in the entire Legislature. The 67-year-old is also the first female speaker pro tempore in the House.
DeBerry was first diagnosed with cancer in 2009 after suffering from stomach pain.
The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/10Kli31 ) reports that earlier this week House Speaker Beth Harwell appointed Democratic Rep. Karen Camper of Memphis to temporarily replace DeBerry on the House Finance Committee and its finance subcommittee.
DeBerry was excused from floor sessions on Monday and three days last week

Harwell Eyes House Rule Changes to End ‘Ghost Voting’

House Speaker Beth Harwell has ordered a review of House rules after a Nashville television station reported on “ghost voting,” wherein several members were shown routinely pushing the desktop vote buttons for others just before the legislature adjourned May 1, according to the Commercial Appeal.
One veteran Memphis member, Rep. Lois DeBerry, a Democrat, turned back the $174 daily expense payment for a day in which she was absent but listed as voting “present” on the House floor.
DeBerry said colleagues erroneously assumed she was running late because her office failed to file an absence letter that would have shown her as “excused” on the chamber’s roll-call board.
Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, acknowledged punching the electronic desktop vote buttons of seat mates when they are out for restroom breaks or meetings with constituents outside the chamber.
Officials agree that while voting for colleagues momentarily away from desks on the House and Senate floors is a longstanding tradition, a Nashville television station’s recent report may lead to a crackdown on abuses. The WTVF report included two East Tennessee Republicans trading out parts of long days on the floor and voting for each other for extended periods.
…Chief Clerk Joe McCord said Harwell “has directed me to come up with some proposals to take to the Rules Committee to see if they want to address it and adopt them.”
…In Nashville, House Rule 29 declares, in part, that “All members casting votes by the electronic roll-call machine shall be at their proper desks at the time for voting with the exception of the Speaker and sponsor moving passage of the bill under consideration.” (The speaker presides at the podium and the bill sponsor is usually there explaining the bill.)
But by long-running practice, the rule is in force only when the speaker declares it’s in effect — “going under the rule.” That usually applies on a contentious bill where the outcome is uncertain. Most routine bills that reach the floor pass by heavy majorities, often unanimously, and the outcome is rarely in doubt.
McCord and lawmakers distinguish between casting votes for colleagues away from their desks temporarily and voting for members who are not present at all, which is not supposed to occur.

House Floor ‘Ghost Voting’ Gets TV Attention

The practice of state legislators casting votes for absent colleagues is known as “ghost voting,” reports WTVF-TV, and “happens in the House chambers probably a lot more often than you think.”
Last year, Tennessee lawmakers passed the controversial voter ID law aimed at eliminating voter fraud.
At the time the legislation was up for consideration, Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, told other House members, “You should be who you say you are when you go vote.”
But when it comes to their own votes, we found House members not only vote for themselves, they also vote for others who are not in their seats. And, sometimes, believe it or not, they even vote for members who are not even there.
Political watchdog and radio talk show host Steve Gill had no idea this was going on.
“I think this is a fraud on the taxpayers,” Gill told NewsChannel 5 Investigates. “I think this is a fraud on the people of Tennessee.
“That’s not what they were sent there to do.”
But Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, insists it’s no big deal.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Ford, “You don’t think this is important?”
“No,” he replied. “This is neither illegal or immoral. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s done all of the time.”
It’s such a common practice in the House, in fact, that many lawmakers have sticks they use to reach each others’ voting buttons.

Lois DeBerry: Pancreatic Cancer Survivor

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn.– State Rep. Lois DeBerry has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season — mainly being alive.
After nearly three years of battling pancreatic cancer, the Memphis Democrat was told by her doctors last month that they couldn’t find any trace of the terminal disease.
“It’s the best Christmas present I could get,” she told The Associated Press.
DeBerry, a lawmaker for nearly 40 years, has been a powerful influence on Capitol Hill. As the first female speaker pro tempore in the House, legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle have sought her support to pass key legislation.
She’s worked tirelessly to pass bills of her own that seek to benefit the poor, children and senior citizens. Some days she’s so busy she doesn’t even have time to eat.
It took cancer to slow her down, for a while at least.
DeBerry discovered she had early stages of the disease in 2009. A fellow lawmaker noticed her eyes were yellow, or jaundiced, and suggested she see a doctor.
After being diagnosed, DeBerry underwent several weeks of chemotherapy before having surgery. She followed that up with several months of more chemo treatments and the cancer seemed to have gone into remission. But there was a setback.
“I was told if this cancer comes back, it comes back within your first two years,” DeBerry said. “I was one month from two years when it came back.”
At that point DeBerry said she felt like giving up. Instead, she said she relied on her faith and the overwhelming support of family, friends and political colleagues who strengthened her “will to fight to live.”
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam was one of those who prayed with DeBerry.
“I think sometimes the way that things happen in life, maybe the best way you can judge people is when things aren’t going well,” Haslam said. “And Lois … never let it drag her down.”
During a second major surgery, doctors removed DeBerry’s pancreas, which produces several important hormones, such as insulin. The removal left her with Type 1 diabetes and a daily practice of giving herself insulin shots, but she said she’s just thankful to be alive.
“This is the most challenging thing that I’ve undertaken and it is the one thing that really put life into perspective for me,” said DeBerry, who earlier this year joined former House
Speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington in being given the honorary title of speaker emeritus.
DeBerry said her 55-year-old cousin also battled the aggressive cancer, but wasn’t as fortunate.
“She was diagnosed on Monday, in hospice on Friday, dead on Monday,” she recalled.
According to the National Cancer Institute, there were about 44,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer in the U.S. in 2011 and more than 37,000 deaths. Among those killed by the disease was Apple founder Steve Jobs and Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Adolpho A. Birch, who DeBerry said encouraged her before he died even though he was ailing.
Despite the numbers, medical experts say advances in technology are helping doctors treat pancreatic cancer more effectively, and in some cases cure patients. DeBerry credited the research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center for her remission.
“In the last 10 to 20 years, there has been significant advancement in the treatment of pancreatic cancer, in addition to many other cancers,” said Kelly Wright, whose expertise is liver and pancreas surgery at Vanderbilt.
“Part of that advancement is better understanding of when we utilize surgery and when we utilize other treatment strategies to help the patients stay stable and to keep their symptoms under control, which allows them to live longer.”
Wright added that the curative rate for people with pancreatic cancer is now 1 in 4, compared to once being 1 in 8.
State Rep. John Deberry said the advancement in research is important, but he said people also have to want to survive, and his Memphis colleague maintained that desire.
“I think you’re going to have several things working together,” he said. “You’ve got what the doctors can do with medical science … but also, the will within that individual to not see cancer as an automatic death sentence. That person has to get up and have the will to live.”
DeBerry’s colleagues noted that she didn’t let her chemo and radiation treatments slow her down. She missed only a few days of the legislative sessions, and would often drive more than three hours to Memphis after having treatments on a Thursday and return to Nashville on time the following Monday for session.
“I don’t know that there’s anybody that I admire more than Lois DeBerry,” said Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville. “We’re proud of the message that she sends to a lot of other people that suffer from cancer, that you can lick this.”
DeBerry said she feels like she’s been given a new lease on life and she’s not taking it for granted.
She encourages people who might have symptoms of pancreatic cancer — such as jaundice of the eyes or stomach cramps — to not hesitate seeing a doctor. And she’s joined an effort to pass legislation in Congress that seeks to invest more money in the fight against pancreatic cancer.
“God has given me a chance to make a difference in somebody’s life,” she said. “And I intend to do that.”

Rep. Lois DeBerry Given Title of ‘House Speaker Pro Tempore Emeritus’

The House approved unanimously on Saturday a resolution formally designating Rep. Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis, has House speaker pro tempore emeritus.
DeBerry, who is serving her 40th year as a lawmaker, held the position of speaker pro tempore for many years until the current session, when the Republican majority chose Rep. Judd Matheny for the position.
The resolution, HJR516, was sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, who was granted the official title House Speaker emeritus two years ago.