NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Rep. Lois DeBerry, one of the longest serving female lawmakers in the nation and a powerful influence in state politics, died Sunday after a nearly five-year bout with pancreatic cancer. She was 68.

First elected in 1972, DeBerry was the longest-serving member of the state House of Representatives and second-longest in the entire Tennessee General Assembly. Nationwide, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only two other female lawmakers elected in 1972 are still serving.

She also was the second African-American woman to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly.

As the first female speaker pro tempore in the House, she was respected by her colleagues, who gave her the honorary title of speaker emeritus. Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle sought her support.