Former State Senator Dead At Age 86 - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Former State Senator Dead At Age 86

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CROSSVILLE, Tenn. - Former Tennessee State Senator Anna Belle Clement O'Brien died Monday night after complications from a fall two weeks ago. She was 86 years old.

O'Brien was the sister of former Gov. Frank G. Clement, who served from 1953 to 1959 and 1963 to 1967. She was her brother's chief of staff during his second term.

Her husband was the late Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles O'Brien. The two married in 1966, when he was serving as a state senator.

According to a media release, O'Brien had been receiving treatment from her fall at the UT Medical Center in Knoxville when she died.

O'Brien served in the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1975 to 1977, and later as a state senator from 1977 to 1991. She made an unsuccessful run for governor in 1982, but failed to win the primary election.

She also served in two gubernatorial cabinets, and was the first woman to chair committees in the Tennessee Senate.

Known as the first lady of Tennessee politics, O'Brien pushed for healthcare reform on several occasions. She has been credited with a law requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of mammograms and giving patients the right to a "living will."

O'Brien was awarded the Clement Museum Humanitarian Leadership Award in April 2009 for her lifetime achievements. Gov. Phil Bredesen and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander were on hand for the tribute.

"Miss Anna Belle's signature line was 'Politics is a beautiful word.' 'Politics' was most certainly made more beautiful here in Tennessee by being graced by the presence of Anna Belle Clement O'Brien for so long. With her passing, we've lost yet another link to a more generous and collegial political world," Bredesen said in a statement.

"I first got to know her when I ran - and lost - against her nephew, Bob Clement, for Congress in 1987. She was definitely and firmly on the other side, but always gracious and kind. In the years after that, she took me under her wing and went out of her way to help me along with advice and unqualified support. I confessed to her many times that her 'Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval' was just what a young outsider needed to break into Tennessee politics, and she was always pleased to hear that."

"Andrea and I offer our sympathy and condolences to her nephews Bob and Frank Clement, to her niece Sara Kyle, and to all of the members of her family on her passing," Bredesen said. 

"For a half century Anna Belle was a pioneer for Tennessee women in politics and an effective force for better schools and health care," Alexander said in a statement. "She relished her integral role as a leader of one of Tennessee's most consequential political families. She was a delight to work with. I will miss her."

Her nephew is former U.S. Congressman Bob Clement. He said O'Brien was determined to open a museum in Dickson to mark the birthplace of her brother. She attended the grand opening of the Gov. Frank G. Clement Railroad Hotel Museum just two months before her death.

Anna Belle Clement O'Brien's visitation will be held Thursday, Sept. 3 at Hood Funeral Home, 2371 Highway 127 South, Crossville, Tenn. from noon until 8 p.m.

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