Margaret Mary Heckler — an eight-term Republican Congresswoman and champion of women’s rights who was later appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services and Ambassador to Ireland by President Ronald Reagan – died Monday in Virginia at the age of 87.
Heckler, considered a “Rockefeller Republican” for her support of moderate to liberal policies, represented the 10th district of Massachusetts from 1967 to 1983, leaving when she lost to Democrat Barney Frank following redistricting in The Bay State.
During her time on Capitol Hill, Heckler launched the bipartisan Congresswoman’s Caucus to push for equality for women. She spearheaded the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to stop banks and lenders from denying loans based on sex or marital status.
A sign on her desk in Washington read: “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”
Heckler headed the HHS from 1983 to 1985 but was reportedly forced out by White House chief of staff Donald Regan who didn’t like her management style. But President Reagan made her departure into what he called a “promotion” by sending her to Ireland from 1986 to 1989.
The daughter of Irish immigrants, Heckler was born in the Flushing section of Queens, New York, and was the sole woman in her law school class at Boston College. She originally wanted to be a concert pianist, but switched gears when she was elected to a student legislative group as an undergrad, according to The Washington Post.
She is survived by three children, Belinda Mulliken, Alison Heckler and John Heckler Jr.; and four grandchildren.
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