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.
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.