Cathy Long, a Louisiana Democrat who won her husband’s U.S. House seat after his sudden death in 1985 and served one term, has died. She was 95.
She died Saturday in Chevy Chase, Maryland. The cause was dementia, her family said.
Long beat three competitors with 56% of the vote in 1985, with a 2-1 margin over the second-place finisher for the seat held for a total of 16 years by Gillis Long. The district covered 15 central Louisiana parishes, including Baton Rouge, the state capital.
“It was a challenging time. She had two weeks to decide whether or not to run for his seat,” her son George Long, who was 30 at the time, said in a phone interview Saturday.
“Our dad had just died, and people were giving her campaign contributions,” said his sister, Janis Long. She said U.S. Rep. Lindy Boggs, D-La, who had won her husband’s seat after his plane disappeared in Alaska in 1972, encouraged Cathy Long to run.
Gillis Long was first elected to Congress in 1962 and then lost in the next election before being voted back into office in 1972, holding the seat for seven straight terms.
Cathy Long already had experience in politics, working early on for a U.S. senator from Oregon and a U.S. representative from Ohio, and later campaigning and giving speeches for her husband, as well as advising him.
“I don’t have to start from scratch. I already know how Congress works,” she told The Associated Press in 1985.
George Long described her as one of the last moderates elected from the area.
“I was glad she decided not to run for re-election,” he said. “The tide was turning.”
Mary Catherine Small was born in Dayton, Ohio. She joined the Navy at age 20 during World War II, serving at a Navy hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas.
The Longs met at Louisiana State University, where both enrolled after the war. They married in 1947.
George Long noted that one of their mother’s early campaign experiences was riding around the state with former Gov. Earl K. Long — her husband’s cousin — while he was running for Congress. Earl Long won a Democratic primary runoff and was preparing to run unopposed in the general election when he died in 1960. His death prompted Gillis Long to move the family back to Louisiana to establish residency so he could run for the seat in 1962, George Long said.
Cathy Long also campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment, her children said.
The siblings recalled their mother as an adventurous spirit who loved scuba diving, fishing trips and even tried parasailing when she was about 60. She also was a giving person who worked in the 1960s to promote the Special Olympics and more recently fed homeless people and tutored reading at a Washington, D.C., neighborhood organization called Miriam’s Kitchen, they said.
Janis Long said her mother asked for 90th birthday gifts of donations to Miriam’s Kitchen, which received about $12,000.
The family said in their obituary that they plan to “cast ashes into the Potomac River on Easter, in the Mississippi River on Mardi Gras, and in the Caribbean Sea near San Pedro, Belize where she loved to fish and scuba dive.”
A memorial service is planned Dec. 7 at All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington.