TIMONIUM, Md., Aug. 7 (UPI) — Helen Bentley, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and a former journalist, died Saturday. She was 92.
Bentley, who had brain cancer, died at her home in Timonium, said longtime aide Key Kidder.
Bentley, a Republican, served in the House from 1985 to 1995, representing a blue-collar portion of the Baltimore suburbs.
She was once described in the Washington Post as ”an unreconstructed American original — raised in the desert, schooled on the waterfront, propelled to Capitol Hill.”
Bentley was hired by the Baltimore Sun in 1945 when few women covered news. She wrote about the port.
During her career with the Sun, Bentley wrote a syndicated column, ”Around the Waterfront,” and produced an educational television program, ”The Port that Built the City and State,” that aired from 1950 to 1965.
She did publicity work for port agencies and the shipping industry, an arrangement considered improper in modern newsrooms. She denied it was a conflict of interest.
”She was one of the best reporters I ever saw,” Russell Baker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist and onetime rewrite man at the Sun, told the Post. ”She was dogged. She knew everybody.”
He added writing was not her strength. ”It was always terrible to have to rewrite Helen because she didn’t take it well,” Baker said.
In 1969, Bentley became the chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission on an appointment by President Richard Nixon. She was the first and only woman in that position, which she held until 1975, when she returned to Baltimore and became a consultant to the maritime industry.
In 2006, then-governor Robert Erlich named the Port of Baltimore after her.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement: “Congresswoman Bentley worked with tenacity, energy, and passion on behalf of her constituents, making her a rare breed in politics and a role model to public servants across Maryland.
He ordered flags in Maryland to fly at half-staff.
Bentley had lost twice in a House race but on her third attempt in 1984, with favorable redistricting and Ronald Reagan‘s landslide re-election over Walter Mondale, she finally unseated Clarence Long.
“She was a tough talking lady that’s why we got along so well,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, a Democrat. “We were no nonsense, either in the way we talked with each other, or talked about. They even nicknamed us the salt and pepper of the Maryland delegation.”
She ran for governor in 1994 but lost in the Republican primary.
She started Helen Bentley Associates in 1995, working as a lobbyist for maritime and defense industries and on patent protection issues.
In 2002, at 78, she sought election to her old House seat. But the district was redrawn to favor a Democrat, and then-Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger won.