Former U.S. Rep. and Kansas City servant Karen McCarthy dies

Wednesday, October 6, 2010 | 12:20 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — Former U.S. Rep. Karen McCarthy, who represented the Kansas City area for more than a decade, died Tuesday. She was 63.

McCarthy was born in Haverhill, Mass., on March 18, 1947. She earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Kansas and a master of business administration from the University of Missouri.

McCarthy had been living in a nursing home in suburban Johnson County, Kan., since spring 2009, when her family announced she had Alzheimer's. A family statement at the time also said she had bipolar disorder, which had gone undiagnosed for a decade.

McCarthy died at the nursing home, said Robert Kalkofen, manager of McGilley Midtown Chapel in Kansas City

McCarthy, who was among a dozen Democrats dubbed the "lucky 13" when they won amid the 1994 GOP landslide that switched control of Congress, announced in late 2003 that she would not seek a sixth term. Among the allegations were that she misused staff and campaign funds for personal gain.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who holds her former seat, said in a statement that McCarthy was a "true public servant and a caring soul."

"Her fight with Alzheimer's was devastating and swift, and this evening our nation mourns the loss of a true pioneer," Cleaver said. "She was brave in the face of a truly heartbreaking disease that led to the end of her career in Congress. Our community owes her so very much."

McCarthy was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 1976 after working as a high school teacher. In the House, she earned the respect of fellow lawmakers such as Gov. Jay Nixon.

"Karen McCarthy was a pioneer for women in public service in Missouri, first on the state and then on the federal level," Nixon said in a statement.

In 1994, she beat Republican Ron Freeman in the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Alan Wheat, who stepped down to run for the Senate.

One of her accomplishments in Congress was helping gain approval for a two-state sales tax in the Kansas City area that helped pay for the renovation of the city's downtown Union Station.

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