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|15th United States Secretary of Health and Human Services|
March 9, 1983 – December 13, 1985
|Preceded by||Richard Schweiker|
|Succeeded by||Otis Bowen|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 10th district
January 3, 1967 – January 3, 1983
|Preceded by||Joseph Martin|
|Succeeded by||Gerry Studds|
|19th United States Ambassador to Ireland|
January 30, 1986 – August 20, 1989
George H. W. Bush
|Preceded by||Robert Kane|
|Succeeded by||Richard Moore|
|Member of the Massachusetts Governor's Council
from the 2nd district
January 3, 1963 – January 3, 1967
|Preceded by||Abraham Kahalas|
|Succeeded by||John Craven|
|Born||Margaret Mary O'Shaughnessy
June 21, 1931
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Alma mater||Albertus Magnus College
Margaret Mary Heckler (born June 21, 1931) is a Republican politician from Massachusetts who served in the United States House of Representatives for eight terms, from 1967 until 1983 and was later the Secretary of Health and Human Services and Ambassador to Ireland under President Ronald Reagan. After her defeat in 1982, no woman would be elected to Congress from Massachusetts until Niki Tsongas in a special election in 2007.
She was born Margaret Mary O'Shaughnessy in Flushing, New York. Her undergraduate studies began at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands in 1952 and went on to graduate from Albertus Magnus College (B.A. 1953) and from Boston College Law School (LL.B. 1956), she was admitted to the bar in Massachusetts. She had also been editor of the Annual Survey of Massachusetts Law.
From 1963 to 1967, Heckler served as Governor's councilor for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1964 and 1968 and was elected as a Republican to the 90th through the 97th Congresses (January 3, 1967 – January 3, 1983).
Heckler received an Honorary Doctorate from Johnson & Wales University in 1975.
In Congress, Heckler was generally regarded as a “Rockefeller Republican” who supported moderate to liberal policies favored by voters in her state. In 1978, she launched and became co-chair of the Congresswoman’s Caucus, a bipartisan group of 14 members focused on equality for women in Social Security, tax laws, and related areas. Heckler was also an outspoken advocate for and cosponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment. She opposed abortion, but did not favor a constitutional amendment to ban it at that time. Later in life, Heckler has become a speaker and activist for pro-life causes.
In Massachusetts, she was noted for building an especially effective network of constituent services that allowed her to breeze through several re-election bids in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. In the capital, Heckler was noted as a socialite with a penchant for high fashion; columnist Jack Anderson called her Margaret “I’d-walk-a-mile-for-a-camera” Heckler.
Heckler's entrance to and exit from Congress are noteworthy pieces of political history. She won her first term in 1966 by defeating 42-year incumbent Republican Joseph W. Martin, Jr., in the primary. Martin, then 82, had previously served as Speaker of the House and was 46 years older than Heckler. Heckler won the subsequent general election with just 51 percent, but was easily reelected thereafter.
Following the 1980 census, Massachusetts lost one of its congressional seats due to a slow-growing population. Heckler's district, at the time the only one in Massachusetts large enough to not need redistricting, was combined with that of freshman Democratic Rep. Barney Frank. While the district was numerically Frank's district—the 4th—geographically it was more Heckler's district. When the two ran against each other in 1982, Heckler began the race as a front-runner. Although she opposed Reagan on 43 percent of House votes, Frank successfully portrayed Heckler as an Reagan ally by pointing to her early support for his tax cuts (which she later retracted). Heckler also lost the support of the National Organization for Women because she opposed federal funding for abortion. She went on to lose the race by a larger-than-expected 20 percent margin.
Health and Human Services Secretary
Following her defeat, Heckler turned down several government jobs — including as an assistant NASA administrator — before Reagan nominated her to replace retiring Health and Human Services Secretary Richard Schweiker in January 1983. Although she had no experience in public health, she was confirmed on March 3, 1983 by an 82 to 3 vote in the Senate. The three dissenters were conservative Republicans, including Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina.
Early as secretary, Heckler commissioned the Secretarial Task Force to investigate a "sad and significant fact: there was a continuing disparity in the burden of death and illness experienced by Blacks and other minority Americans as compared with our nation's population as a whole". The proceeding quote is from her opening letter in the report entitled, The Secretary's Report on Black and Minority Health. This report is also known as the Heckler Report. The Heckler Report provided the historical foundation for many reports thereafter and is often referenced as a landmark document for health disparity and health equity inquiry. See the full report here: https://archive.org/stream/reportofsecretar00usde#page/n9/mode/2up
As secretary, Heckler publicly supported the Reagan administration's more conservative views presiding over staffing cuts in the department as part of the administration’s spending reductions and was a frequent spokesperson on a wide array of public health issues, including the then-emerging AIDS crisis. It was very difficult for Heckler to get the topic of AIDS on the Cabinet meeting agendas, and she never once spoke about the epidemic with Reagan.
While HHS secretary, Heckler repeatedly assured the American public that the nation's blood supply was "100% safe... for both the hemophiliac who requires large transfusions and for the average citizen who might need it for surgery".
Public divorce saga
Heckler's tenure as secretary was also marked by a public soap opera that played out in the Washington press when her husband, John, filed for divorce in 1984. The episode was tinged by election-year concerns over the impact of the divorce on conservative voters and dragged on for months as the couple argued whether Massachusetts or Virginia, where Margaret Heckler had moved, had jurisdiction in the case. John Heckler publicly criticized his wife for becoming a changed person after she entered politics, and cited "fear of life and limb and mental welfare" in his filing. Margaret Heckler disputed the claims, but declined to comment publicly.
Departure from Cabinet
Although Heckler stayed on in the Cabinet after Reagan's reelection and was widely regarded as an effective spokesperson, press accounts in late 1985 revealed that some White House and agency insiders regarded her as an ineffective manager. White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan reportedly pushed for Heckler's dismissal, but President Reagan told reporters "there has never been any thought in my mind to fire" her. Instead, she was appointed as ambassador to Ireland, with a $16,000 pay cut that prompted the press to ridicule Reagan's characterization of the situation as a "promotion." She was confirmed as ambassador in December 1985.
Ambassador to Ireland
In her new position, Heckler was credited as the driving force behind a $120 million U.S. grant to the International Fund for Ireland, an economic development organization. She was a frequent guest on Irish television programs and was "by all accounts an effective spokesperson for her government's policies on everything from Central America to international trade," according to the Washington Post. Her term concluded in August 1989.
- Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Black and Minority Health (Volume 4, Part 1 ed.). Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. 1986. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On, page 345
- United States Congress. "Margaret Heckler (id: H000440)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
- Doug Allan. “Speaker of the House: Joe Martin of N. Attleboro.” Providence Journal. 07/26/1999.
- Jane Anderson. “Two Massachusetts Incumbents Fight for Single Seat in Congress.” Miami Herald. 10/17/1982. p. 5D.
- Karen DeYoung. “Margaret Heckler, All Emerald Smiles.” Washington Post. 03/18/1987. p. D1.
- David Hoffman. “Heckler Offered Irish Ambassadorship.” Washington Post. 10/01/1985. pA1.
- Stephanie Mansfield. “The Heckler Breakup.” Washington Post. 10/16/1984. p. B1.
- Donnie Radcliffe. “The Women’s Caucus.” Washington Post. 04/27/1978. p. B12.
- Spencer Rich. “Heckler’s Administrative Skills Called Inadequate for Agency.” Washington Post. 10/01/1985. A1.
- Eric Scheidler. “Father and Son Rally the Troops on Maryland Truth Tour.” Pro-Life Action News. Fall 2003.
- Myron Stuck and Sarah Fitzgerald. “Senate Confirms Heckler.” Washington Post. 03/04/1983. p. A13.
- U.S. House of Representatives. Office
|United States House of Representatives|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 10th congressional district
|United States Secretary of Health and Human Services
|United States Ambassador to Ireland