Marilyn Lloyd, 89, Tennessee Trailblazer in Congress, Dies

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Marilyn Lloyd, a conservative Democrat who in 1974 became the first woman from Tennessee to be elected to a full term in Congress, winning a House seat that she held for the next two decades, died on Wednesday in Hixson, Tenn. She was 89.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, her daughter Nancy McConnell said.

Ms. Lloyd was thrust into politics after her husband, Mort Lloyd, a popular television news anchor, died in a plane crash shortly after winning the Democratic nomination to represent Tennessee’s third district in the House of Representatives.

Democratic officials chose Ms. Lloyd to replace him on the ballot, even though her only political experience had been in helping her husband’s campaign.

Though running in a conservative district in eastern Tennessee, Ms. Lloyd narrowly defeated the two-term Republican incumbent, LaMar Baker, at least in part because of anti-Republican backlash after the Watergate scandal.

She was not the first woman to represent Tennessee in the House. Three others had won special elections to complete their husbands’ terms after they died, but none served a full term.

In her 10 terms in the House, Ms. Lloyd served on the armed services and science committees and a select committee on the aging, among other panels.

She was willing to break with her party when she disagreed with it, particularly over projects that benefited her district.

In one instance she pushed Congress to back the construction of a nuclear breeder reactor just outside Oak Ridge, Tenn. The reactor, which was designed to produce, or breed, plutonium while it operated, would have been an economic windfall for her district, but it was opposed by environmentalists and President Jimmy Carter.

The proposal lingered for years as its projected costs ballooned and was finally defeated by a coalition of fiscal conservatives and antinuclear lawmakers in 1983.

After overcoming breast cancer in the early 1990s, Ms. Lloyd began to adopt more progressive stances on women’s issues, becoming an advocate for breast cancer awareness and policies in support of women’s health.

Though she opposed abortion morally, she said, her cancer treatment had led her to support abortion rights, in the belief that women should be allowed to determine their own medical care.

In her re-election bid in 1992 she barely defeated her Republican opponent, Zach Wamp, and in 1993 she announced that she would retire after serving out her term. Before she left office she endorsed Mr. Wamp, who ran again in 1994 and narrowly defeated Randy Button.

Rachel Marilyn Laird was born on Jan. 3, 1929, in Fort Smith, Ark., to James and Iva (Higginbotham) Laird. Her father was a pastor, her mother a homemaker.

After completing high school, she married Robert Davison, who later died. She attended Shorter College (now Shorter University) in Rome, Ga., before marrying Mort Lloyd.

They owned a radio station and a small aviation company, which Ms. Lloyd was instrumental in operating.

Mr. Lloyd was killed at 43 when the plane he was flying crashed into a wooded area shortly after he won the House nomination. A propeller blade had broken loose in midflight and the plane had spun out of control, the authorities said at the time.

Ms. Lloyd, who lived in Chattanooga and had a home in Seagrove Beach, Fla., was married twice more, to Joseph Bouquard and Robert Fowler. Her marriage to Mr. Bouquard ended in divorce, and her marriage to Mr. Fowler ended with his death.

In addition to Ms. McDonnell, Ms. Lloyd’s survivors include another daughter from her first marriage, Mari Stanfill; a son from her second, Morton Lloyd II; four grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

Follow Daniel E. Slotnik on Twitter: @dslotnik

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