Millicent Fenwick, who became a congresswoman at an age when most people retire and inspired a comic-strip character with her outspoken ways and stylish manner, died Wednesday, her son said. She was 82.
She died at her home in this affluent northern New Jersey suburb, said Hugh Fenwick Jr. Her health had been gradually declining for about a year, and "her heart just stopped beating," he said.Rep. Fenwick gained fame in the 1970s for her independence and outspoken insistence on high ethical standards and prudent spending. The former model, editor and author of an etiquette book also was known as a pipe smoker, and as the inspiration for Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury cartoon character, Lacey Davenport.
"I was so hurt when I got to Congress. All the media would say was `pipe-smoking grandmother.' And I would say, `For God's sake, hard-working grandmother, same number of syllables.' But I couldn't persuade them," Rep. Fenwick said in 1987, when she retired as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
She said she took up the pipe when her doctor told her to give up cigarettes.
Rep. Fenwick was 64 when she was elected Republican representative from New Jersey's 5th Congressional District in 1974. Her opponent in the primary was Thomas H. Kean, who went on to serve two terms as governor in the 1980s.
During her two terms in the House, Rep. Fenwick fought for civil rights and curbs on campaign spending, often outraging her fellow representatives.
The liberal Americans for Democratic Action gave her a 58 rating in 1975 and a 65 in 1976. The conservative Americans for Constitutional Action gave her a 35 both years.
However, Rep. Fenwick maintained that her voting record reflected traditional American values - that fighting for justice and the equal protection guarantees of the Constitution "actually is a conservative position."
She was more often than not at odds with Republican President Gerald Ford. She voted to override Ford's veto of strip mining regulations, and opposed him on funding the B-1 bomber and aid to anti-Soviet forces in Angola.
Rep. Fenwick said one of the greatest achievements of her congressional career was the formation of the Helsinki Commission, which monitors compliance with the 1975 Helsinki Accord on human rights.