NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Rep. Lois DeBerry, one of the longest-serving women 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.

The Memphis Democrat was surrounded by family and friends when she died at a Memphis hospital, her nephew, Gary DeBerry, told The Associated Press.

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

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 on key legislation.

She was a close friend of former Vice President Al Gore for more than 30 years and gave a rousing presidential nominating speech for Gore at the Democratic National Convention in 2000.

"The Gore campaign at that time needed a sparkplug, someone to stand up and give a ... call to action," recalled Rep. John DeBerry, a distant relative who served with her for more than 20 years in the Legislature. "And Lois was chosen for that. She brought him on to a rousing applause."

DeBerry pushed legislation to benefit poor people, children, senior citizens and college students. One proposal was aimed at keeping students out of debt by restricting credit card companies from soliciting on college and university campuses.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. said DeBerry's faith and outspokenness earned her the adoration of many in the Memphis community.

"For those in political circles, she was Speaker DeBerry, a trusted partner and consummate advocate for the people of Memphis and our state," Wharton said in a statement. "Many of her friends and people across the community, however, also knew her as Lady D – an intelligent, cosmopolitan, personality whose passion for the people she served knew no bounds."

She continued to serve in the Legislature, despite her chemotherapy treatments and illness.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said her resilience in her final days was "unbelievable."

"We'd say, why is she doing this? It's got to be painful, it's got to be very stressful on her," the Ripley Democrat said. "She was one of a kind, there's no question."

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/01/ed-koch-dead-nyc-mayor-obituary_n_2597207.html" target="_blank"><strong>Ed Koch</strong> </a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congressman from New York (1969-1977), Mayor Of New York City (1978-1989) <strong>Died on:</strong> Feb. 1, 2013 at age 88 of congestive heart failure.

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/07/cardiss-collins-dead-dies_n_2638857.html" target="_blank"><strong>Cardiss Collins</strong> (right)</a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congresswoman from Illinois (1973-1997) <strong>Died on:</strong> Feb. 3, 2013 at age 81 of complications from pneumonia

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/10/marco-mcmillian-funeral_n_2846581.html" target="_blank"><strong>Marco McMillian</strong></a> <strong>Served as</strong>: Democratic candidate for mayor of Clarksdale, Miss. (2013) <strong>Died on:</strong> February 26, 2013 at age 33. McMillan was found murdered near a Mississippi River levee.

  • <a href="http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_22981784/william-h-royer-former-congressman-and-redwood-city" target="_blank"><strong>William Royer</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congressman from California (1979-1981) <strong>Died on:</strong> April 8, 2013 at age 92 of natural causes

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/14/charlie-wilson-dead-dies_n_3081609.html" target="_blank"><strong>Charlie Wilson</strong> (right)</a> <strong>Served as:</strong> Ohio state representative (1997-2005), Ohio state senator (2005-06), U.S. congressman from Ohio (2007-2011) <strong>Died on:</strong> April 14, 2013 at age 70, a few months after suffering a stroke

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/23/bob-edgar-dead-former-national-council-of-churches-leader-dies-at-69_n_3142967.html" target="_blank"><strong>Bob Edgar</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congressman from Pennsylvania (1975-1987) <strong>Died on:</strong> April 23, 2013 at age 69 of a heart attack

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/03/frank-lautenberg-dead-dies_n_3377916.html" target="_blank"><strong>Frank Lautenberg</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. senator from New Jersey (1982-2001, 2003-2013) <strong>Died on:</strong> June 3, 2013 at age 89 of complications from viral pneumonia

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/09/argeo-paul-cellucci-dead-dies_n_3411530.html" target="_blank"><strong>Argeo Paul Cellucci</strong> </a> <strong>Served as:</strong> Massachusetts state representative (1977-1985), Massachusetts state senator (1985-1991), Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts (1991-99), Governor of Massachusetts (1997-2001), U.S. Ambassador to Canada (2001-05) <strong>Died on:</strong> June 8, 2013 at age 65 of complications from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/10/barbara-vucanovich-dead-dies_n_3416871.html" target="_blank"><strong>Barbara Vucanovich</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congresswoman from Nevada (1983-1997) <strong>Died on:</strong> June 10, 2013 at age 91 after a brief illness

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/25/bill-hathaway-dead-dies_n_3497223.html" target="_blank"><strong>Bill Hathaway</strong> (far left) </a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congressman from Maine (1965-1973), U.S. senator from Maine (1973-79) <strong>Died on:</strong> June 25, 2013 at age 89 <em>Correction:</em> A previous version of this slide misstated that Hathaway was on the far right.

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/01/william-gray-dead-dies_n_3531409.html" target="_blank"><strong>William Gray</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congressman from Pennsylvania (1979-1991), House Majority Whip (1989-1991) <strong>Died on:</strong> July 1, 2013 at age 71

  • <a href="http://www.twincities.com/ci_23592218/arlan-stangeland-dies-was-northwest-minnesota-congressman" target="_blank"><strong>Arlan Stangeland</strong> </a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congressman from Minnesota (1977-1991) <strong>Died on:</strong> July 2, 2013 at age 83

  • <a href="http://www.nhregister.com/general-news/20130709/former-congressman-from-connecticuts-4th-district-donald-irwin-dies" target="_blank"><strong>Donald Irwin</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congressman from Connecticut (1959-1961, 1965-69), Connecticut state treasurer (1961-63), Mayor of Norwalk, Conn. (1971-75) <strong>Died on:</strong> July 7, 2013 at age 86 from heart problems

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/27/lindy-boggs-dead-dies_n_3663330.html" target="_blank"><strong>Lindy Boggs</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congresswoman from Louisiana (1973-1991) <strong>Died on:</strong> July 27, 2013 at age 97 of natural causes

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/28/lois-deberry-dead_n_3668129.html" target="_blank"><strong>Lois DeBerry</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> Tennessee state representative (1972-2013) <strong>Died on:</strong> July 28, 2013 at age 68 of pancreatic cancer <em>Correction: A previous version of this slide incorrectly identified DeBerry as a Tennessee state senator.</em>

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/29/william-scranton-dead-dies_n_3670987.html" target="_blank"><strong>William Scranton</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congressman from Pennsylvania (1961-63), governor of Pennsylvania (1963-67); U.N. Ambassador (1976-77) <strong>Died on:</strong> July 28, 2013 at age 96 of a cerebral hemorrhage

  • <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/jack-hightower-former-texas-congressman-dies-at-86/2013/08/08/a01ffd1c-ff79-11e2-9a3e-916de805f65d_story.html" target="_blank"><strong>Jack Hightower</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> Texas state representative (1953–55), Texas state senator (1965-1974), U.S. congressman from Texas (1975-85) <strong>Died on:</strong> Aug. 3, 2013 at age 86

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/26/john-j-gilligan-dead_n_3819374.html" target="_blank"><strong>John J. Gilligan</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congressman from Ohio (1965-67), governor of Ohio (1971-75) <strong>Died on:</strong> Aug. 26, 2013 at age 92

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/30/harry-byrd-jr-dead-dies_n_3676405.html" target="_blank"><strong>Harry Byrd Jr.</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. senator from Virginia (1965-1983) <strong>Died on:</strong> July 30, 2013 at age 98

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/11/clay-shaw-dead-dies_n_3905723.html" target="_blank"><strong>E. Clay Shaw Jr.</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> Mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (1975-81), U.S. congressman from Florida (1981-2007) <strong>Died on:</strong> Sept. 10, 2013 at age 74 of lung cancer

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/09/rod-grams-dead-dies_n_4070954.html" target="_blank"><strong>Rod Grams</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congressman from Minnesota (1993-95), U.S. senator from Minnesota (1995-2001) <strong>Died on:</strong> October 8, 2013 at age 65 from cancer

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/18/tom-foley-dead-dies_n_4122987.html" target="_blank"><strong>Tom Foley</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congressman from Washington state (1965-1995), House Majority Whip (1981-87), House Majority Leader (1987-89), Speaker of the House (1989-1995), U.S. Ambassador to Japan (1997-2001) <strong>Died on:</strong> Oct. 18, 2013 at age 84

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/18/florida-us-rep-bill-young-dead_n_4125582.html" target="_blank"><strong>Bill Young</strong> </a> <strong>Served as:</strong> Florida state senator (1960-1970), U.S. congressman (1971-2013) from Florida <strong>Died on:</strong> Oct. 18, 2013 at age 82

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/22/major-owens-dead-dies_n_4142722.html" target="_blank"><strong>Major Owens</strong> (left)</a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congressman from New York (1983-2007) <strong>Died on:</strong> Oct. 21, 2013 at age 77 of renal failure and heart failure

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/28/ike-skelton-dies_n_4172069.html" target="_blank"><strong>Ike Skelton</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congressman from Missouri (1977-2011) <strong>Died on:</strong> Oct. 28, 2013 at age 81

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/01/john-mccollister-dead-dies_n_4193030.html" target="_blank"><strong>John McCollister</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congressman from Nebraska (1971-77) <strong>Died on:</strong> Nov. 1, 2013 at age 92

  • <a href="http://www.post-gazette.com/local/2013/11/03/William-Coyne-retired-ling-time-congressman-from-Pittsburgh-dies/stories/201311030207" target="_blank"><strong>William Coyne</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> Pennsylvania state representative (1971-72), U.S. congressman from Pennsylvania (1981-2003) <strong>Died on:</strong> Nov. 3, 2013 at age 77, two months after falling and sustaining head injuries

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/21/john-eisenhower-dead_n_4487106.html" target="_blank"><strong>John Eisenhower</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. Ambassador to Belgium (1969-1971) <strong>Died on:</strong> Dec. 21, 2013 at age 91

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/21/john-eisenhower-dead_n_4487106.html" target="_blank"><strong>Andrew Jacobs</strong></a> <strong>Served as:</strong> U.S. congressman from Indiana (1965-1973, 1975-1997) <strong>Died on:</strong> Dec. 28, 2013 at age 81