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Beltway Confidential

Lindy Boggs, R.I.P.

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Beltway Confidential,Michael Barone,Louisiana,Analysis

Lindy Boggs, congresswoman for Louisiana’s 2nd congressional district from 1973 to 1991 and widow of Hale Boggs, who was first elected to the House in 1940 and who was House Majority Leader when he was lost in a plane crash in 1972, died last weekend.

She was a wonderful person and in this American Spectator blogpost Quin Hillyer shows why. She was incredibly gracious and, I believe, as Quin does, utterly sincerely so. When she said, “I am so glad to see you,” she really was. She did not seem to have a bad word to say about anybody, but that was not because she was naive. Hale Boggs was elected in 1940, the youngest member of Congress, by running against the rascals who inherited the political machine of the brilliant but unscrupulous Huey Long. And for some years she lived in a house, inherited I believe from an elderly relative, on one of the yeastiest blocks of Bourbon Street. She was under no illusions, but she seems never to have been disillusioned.

Poised and elegant: I remember traveling to the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles on an 8 a.m. plane from Dulles. There were numerous political worthies at the baggage claim in LAX, looking the worse for wear. Men were unshaven and just about everybody was sweating and wearing wrinkled clothers. Not Lindy. She was wearing a tailored light gray suit and high heels and retrieving her bags as effectively as anyone else, looking cool and unruffled at age 80. She recalled that her first Democratic National Convention was in Chicago in 1940, 56 years before. A year later, she was appointed Ambassador to the Vatican; her daughter Cokie Roberts said she was the only person who could explain Bill Clinton to the Pope.

Obituary writers have noted her ability to persuade her colleagues to support her legislation, as when she wrote into the draft of an anti-discrimination bill “sex and marital status.” She was always charming, but also, I think, very smart: She knew just what was going on. She was also formidable at other things. I have long known Cokie and Steve Roberts (my colleague at the Harvard Crimson in 1963-64 and at U.S. News in 1989-96) and they tell of how she arranged their wedding at the house she and Hale Boggs lived in and in which Steve and Cokie lived for many years. Some 400 guests were invited, including President Lyndon Johnson, for the wedding and dinner. Lindy Boggs cooked all the food.

She always seemed cheerful but endured tragedy, the deaths of Hale Bogg and her daughter Barbara Sigmund. She once told me — and I’m sure many others — that on the night his plane disappeared (it was never found), her dog unaccountably started yelping loudly. She believed that that was at the moment of the crash and that the dog somehow knew.

I’ll let Quin Hillyer, who does not share her politics,  have the final word:

“Lindy Boggs was perhaps the most influential wife of a congressman in the entire 20th century, and then the most influential of trail-blazing women in Congress. She was the legend who could bend Tip O’Neill to her will by whispering in his ear; she was the liberal who refused to abandon her pro-life principles even as ‘abortion rights’ became her party’s dogma; she was a hyper-loyal Democrat who yet always worked to bridge partisan divides. But what made her a great lady was not her politics, but her deep and genuine graciousness and goodness. For all of us, her example is well worth emulating.”

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