Barbara Vucanovich, a Nevada Republican who at 61 won election to the U.S. House of Representatives with the slogan, "What Congress needs is a tough grandmother," and became an advocate for breast cancer awareness during seven terms in office, died Monday at an assisted-living facility in Reno, Nev. She was 91.
The cause was complications from a fall several months ago, said Patricia Cafferata, her daughter and the co-author of her 2005 memoir "Barbara F. Vucanovich: From Nevada to Congress, And Back Again."
A "flamingo in the barnyard of politics" was how the late U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., affectionately described Ms. Vucanovich, according to her memoir, when he successfully nominated her for Republican Party secretary in 1994.
Raised on the East Coast, she went to Nevada to obtain a divorce in the late 1940s, when other states had more stringent marriage laws. After the death of her second husband, she supported her five children by running a speed-reading school and travel agency. She also worked on political campaigns and was hired by Republican Paul Laxalt to manage his Reno office after his election to the U.S. Senate in 1974.
After Nevada gained a district through a congressional reapportionment, Mr. Laxalt persuaded her -- over her initial reluctance -- to seek the open seat in 1982. She won and became the first woman to represent her state in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Over the next 14 years, Ms. Vucanovich represented nearly all of Nevada outside Las Vegas. She served on the Interior, Natural Resources and Appropriations committees, and she chaired the Appropriations subcommittee on military construction.
She helped shepherd bills that reversed the federal 55-mph speed limit and prohibited states from taxing former residents' pensions and other retirement benefits. (The latter legislation benefited her constituents who had moved from other states to Nevada, which has no state income tax.)
Barbara Farrell was born June 22, 1921, in what was then Camp Dix, N.J., and raised in New York state.