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Margaret Heckler, Through the Years With Bikes, Bread and Cake

Former congresswoman, HHS secretary, ambassador to Ireland dies at 87

Rep. Margaret M. Heckler, R-Mass. and Rep. Robert C. Eckhardt, D-Texas, ride bikes in front of Capitol Hill. (Mickey Senko/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Margaret M. Heckler, R-Mass. and Rep. Robert C. Eckhardt, D-Texas, ride bikes in front of Capitol Hill. (Mickey Senko/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Rep. Margaret M. Heckler, a Massachusetts Republican who went on to become Health and Human Services secretary and later ambassador to Ireland, died Monday at the age of 87, but not before leaving behind some indelibly light-hearted images from her Capitol Hill days using some pedal power — with various foodstuffs. 

Rep. Peter A. Peyser, R-N.Y., and Rep. Margaret Heckler, R-Mass., in 1983 (Photo by Dev O'Neill/ CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Peter A. Peyser, D-N.Y., and Heckler in 1983 (Dev O’Neill/ CQ Roll Call)
First Tuesday in October in Kansas is
First Tuesday in October in Kansas is “Wheat Day.” In this 1981 photo, Rep. Keith Sebelius, R-Kan., gives Heckler two loaves of bread. Coincidentally, Sebelius was the father-in-law of future Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who went on to become HHS secretary under President Barack Obama. Heckler was HHS secretary under President Ronald Reagan. (Mickey Senko/CQ Roll Call file photo)
7/12/00.CELEBRATING 35 YEARS OF MEDICARE--Former Congresswoman Margaret M. Heckler joins Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala in celebrating 35 years of Medicare..CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY PHOTO BY EMILY BARNES
Heckler, center, joins HHS Secretary Donna Shalala in 2000 to celebrate 35 years of Medicare. Eighteen years later, Shalala is running for a House seat in Florida as a Democrat. (Emily Barnes/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Heckler, born on June 21, 1931, was first elected to Congress in 1966, and did it in dramatic fashion before even getting to the general election. She defeated Massachusetts Rep. Joseph W. Martin Jr., the former speaker of the House, in a  Republican primary.

She made waves among her GOP colleagues by bucking President Richard Nixon on both foreign and domestic policy, and by advocating the Equal Rights Amendment. Meanwhile, she disappointed liberal colleagues with her anti-abortion stances. 

She was a founding co-chair of the Congressional Women’s Caucus, now known as the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues. 

In 1982, she and Democratic Rep. Barney Frank faced off in a member-on-member redistricting-induced contest. Frank, a freshman, upset the eight-term congressional veteran, 60 percent to  40 percent. 

It was then that President Ronald Reagan chose Heckler to succeed Richard S. Schweiker as Health and Human Services secretary. She served in that capacity for two years, occasionally bucking the White House line by advocating more spending on welfare programs and funding research for AIDS programs.

She left her position in Reagan’s Cabinet in 1985 and later that year was confirmed to be ambassador to Ireland, a position she held until August 1989. 

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