It was a New Orleans-style send-off for Lindy Boggs: Scores of her friends, family and colleagues gathered Thursday in a historic French Quarter cathedral to hear dignitaries praise the former Democratic congresswoman as a gracious but iron-willed fighter for her home city and for the civil rights of women and minorities.
Boggs died Saturday at age 97.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called her a "diamond magnolia." John Lewis, the African-American civil rights leader and longtime Georgia congressman, referred to Boggs, a plantation-born white Southerner, as "my friend, my colleague, my sister."
Boggs' grandson, Thomas Hale Boggs III, read messages of condolence from President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton. There were emotional tributes from Mayor Mitch Landrieu; former U.S. Sen. John Breaux; and several of Boggs' other grandchildren, delivered as Boggs' children, journalist Cokie Roberts and lobbyist Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., watched.
Boggs represented New Orleans for 18 years after succeeding her late husband, Thomas Hale Boggs Sr., in the House of Representatives. She later served as the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.
Her funeral Mass took place at St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square, blocks from her Bourbon Street home. On a small table near the entrance lay a pile of petite parasols to be carried in a traditional New Orleans "second-line" parade behind the hearse once the Mass was over.
"We're going to celebrate an extraordinarily well-lived life," U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said before entering.
Boggs' congressional service began when, in a special election in 1973, voters elected her to finish the term of her husband, whose plane had disappeared over Alaska six months earlier. Between them, they served a half-century in the House. He was first elected in 1940, two years after the couple married.
She was the first woman elected to Congress from Louisiana. When she announced her retirement in 1990, she was the only white representative of a majority-black district in Congress. "I am proud to have played a small role in opening doors for blacks and women," she said at the time.
As family tragedy brought her in to Congress, so did it usher her out. At the time of her July 1990 announcement, her daughter Barbara Boggs Sigmund, mayor of Princeton, New Jersey, was dying of cancer. Sigmund died that October.
Breaking with most Southern whites, Lindy Boggs saw civil rights as an inseparable part of the political reform movement of the 1940s and `50s. She supported the Civil Rights Acts of 1965 and 1968, the Head Start pre-school education program, and other programs to help minorities, the poor and women.
After she entered Congress, Boggs used her seat on the House Banking and Currency Committee to include women in the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974.