BOSTON — Margaret Heckler, an eight-term Republican congresswoman from Massachusetts who went on to serve as secretary of Health and Human Services under President Ronald Reagan and U.S. ambassador to Ireland, has died at age 87.
Her family says she died Monday of cardiac arrest at an Arlington, Virginia, hospital. The death was confirmed by Murphy Funeral Homes, of Arlington, which is handling arrangements.
"She was an inspiration to all who knew her," her family said in a statement to The Boston Globe.
Heckler was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1966 after upsetting former Speaker Joseph Martin Jr., a 42-year congressman, in the Republican primary and Democrat Patrick Harrington Jr. in the general election.
She was one of only 11 women in the House at first. She served until 1983 following a loss to Democrat Barney Frank.
Heckler was a champion of women's and veterans issues in the House.
In addition to supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, she helped push through 1974's Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which barred lenders from discriminating based on gender or marital status.
At Health and Human Services from 1983 until 1985 she was among the first high-ranking members of the Reagan administration to call for additional federal funding for AIDS research and treatments, and expanded research into Alzheimer's disease.
After she was forced out of the cabinet by Republicans critical of her management style, she served as ambassador to Ireland until 1989.
Heckler's marriage ended in a bitter and public divorce in 1985. She is survived by three children and four grandchildren.
Heckler was raised in New York City, the daughter of Irish immigrants.
Service plans are pending, according to the funeral home.