Jean Carnahan, who in 2001 became the first woman to represent Missouri in the U.S. Senate after being appointed to fill her husband’s seat following his posthumous election, died on Tuesday at a hospice in St. Louis County. She was 90.
She died following a brief illness, her family said in a statement. No cause of death was given.
Ms. Carnahan, the wife of Mel Carnahan, was appointed to the U.S. Senate from Missouri in December 2000, following Mr. Carnahan’s election just weeks after he was killed in a plane crash with one of their sons and a longtime aide. Ms. Carnahan was sworn in on Jan. 3, 2001.
“I know I did not come to the U.S. Senate in the same way you did,” Ms. Carnahan said in remarks to her new Senate colleagues. “I did not have a long-term, personal commitment to a campaign. My name has never been on a ballot. On election night there was no victory celebration. You are here because of your win; I am here because of my loss. But we are all here to do the work of this great nation.”
Ms. Carnahan, a moderate Democrat who had never held public office before being appointed to fill in for her husband, served for nearly two years. She lost to Jim Talent, a Republican, by 22,000 votes in November 2002.
Following her defeat, Ms. Carnahan told The New York Times that despite the tumult and heartache she had endured, she had always pushed bitterness aside. “It’s an acid in your life that corrodes your soul,” she told The Times.
During her time in the Senate, Ms. Carnahan focused on national security and conditions for members of the military, working to secure health care benefits for reservists and National Guard personnel, according to the statement from the family. She was part of the first Congressional delegation to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Ms. Carnahan also helped introduce a law requiring corporations to make swift electronic reporting of insider trading, according to the family statement.
Ms. Carnahan had previously served as first lady of Missouri during her husband’s two terms as governor. Her family said that during that time she promoted on-site day care centers for working families, supported shelters for victims of domestic abuse and was an advocate for seniors and working families.
Ms. Carnahan also published several books, including two about the historic Governor’s Mansion in Missouri, for which, her family said, she raised money.
Ms. Carnahan was born Jean Carpenter on Dec. 20, 1933, in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Anacostia, a working-class neighborhood in the city’s southeast section. Her father, Reginald Carpenter, was a plumber, and her mother, Alvina Carpenter, a hairdresser.
She met Mr. Carnahan when they were teenagers at a Sunday night youth group at a Baptist church, and they sat next to each other in class at Anacostia High School, the family said. The couple were married on June 12, 1954.
The following year, Ms. Carnahan graduated from George Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in business and public administration. She and Mr. Carnahan raised four children on a farm outside of Rolla, Mo., a small community in the Ozarks.
Ms. Carnahan is survived by two sons: Russ and Tom; a daughter, Robin; and five grandchildren.
Roger Wilson, the former Missouri governor who appointed Ms. Carnahan to the Senate, said in a statement released by the Carnahan family on Tuesday that she was his “first and only choice” to take the seat won by her husband.
Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.