Former Missouri senator Jean Carnahan dies

 January 31, 2024

Jean Carnahan, the first woman to represent the state of Missouri in the U.S. Senate, has died. She was 90.

Carnahan, a Democrat, was appointed to the role after her husband, then-governor Mel Carnahan, died in a plane crash just weeks before winning his Senate election posthumously.

Senator served with grace

The couple's son, Roger, and an aide also died in the October 2000 crash.

Jean Carnahan, then known to Missourians as their First Lady, had barely time to grieve before she was appointed to honor her husband's legacy in Washington.

"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," she told Senate colleagues at the time. "But we are all here to do the work of this great nation."

Carnahan focused on bolstering national security and supporting the troops during her brief time in Washington, which came to an end when she narrowly lost a special election to Republican Jim Talent in 2002.

She was just months on the job when the United States suffered its worst-ever terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. Then came the anthrax attacks, which targeted U.S. senators and left five people dead.

As the country spiraled, Carnahan suffered another personal tragedy when she lost her home in a fire.

“It was an extraordinary and stressful time and she did the job well and with great dignity,” her chief of staff, Roy Temple, said. “It was a privilege to work with her.”

Missouri mourning

Carnahan was born Jean Anne Carpenter in Washington, D.C, the daughter of a plumber father and a hairdresser mother. She and her future husband sat next to each other in the same high school class.

They married in 1954 and a year later, Carnahan graduated from George Washington University with a bachelor's degree in business and public administration. She later moved with her new husband to Missouri, where they raised four kids on a farm.

"Mom passed peacefully after a long and rich life. She was a fearless trailblazer. She was brilliant, creative, compassionate and dedicated to her family and her fellow Missourians,” her family said in a statement.

Public figures in Missouri, including Governor Mike Parson (R), sent their condolences to the Carnahan family.

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