Karen McCarthy, the former English teacher turned five-term member of Congress, died Tuesday afternoon of complications from Alzheimer's disease.
She was 63.
McCarthy, a longtime resident of Kansas City's Roanoke neighborhood, championed the environment, public education, women's rights and an expansion of prescription-drug coverage under Medicare during a career in public office that spanned nearly three decades.
"It's a human tragedy," said David Westbrook, a McCarthy friend of 40 years. "It's a tragic event in the life of an individual who really cared and really tried."
McCarthy passed away at Garden Terrace at Overland Park, an Alzheimer's center.
She rose to become president of the National Conference of State Legislatures in 1994 and, that same year, easily defeated 10 other Democratic candidates to cruise into Congress.
Harper's Bazaar magazine once listed her, along with Hillary Rodham Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, as a potential first woman president.
But in June 2009, her family announced that McCarthy was suffering from an advanced form of Alzheimer's disease. At the time, she was also said to be dealing with a bipolar disorder that apparently went undiagnosed for at least a decade.
Until she moved to Garden Terrace, she had spent the final months of her life living in a Johnson County nursing facility, where she was described by family members as "comfortable and comforted by the people who care so much about who she is, what she stands for and how the rest of her life can be led with some measure of peace and satisfaction."
She was single and had no children.
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