Elected to Congress in 1966, Margaret Heckler ’56 wasted no time. She served eight terms as a Republican representative, was Secretary of Health and Human Services for nearly three years, and Ambassador to Ireland for four years.
During her career, Heckler instituted efforts to expand hospice care, discourage smoking, resettle Vietnam refugees, and recognize the rights of disabled citizens, asserting that “I thought that every wrong should be righted, and I went about trying to do just that.”
Now eighty-five, Heckler said in a recent interview that her proudest achievement at the health agency was the creation of the HHS Heckler Report, a landmark study documenting disparities in health care affecting minorities. “This report left a lasting positive impact on our health care system, which still relies on this type of data today,” Heckler said. She also expanded funding for research into breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, and AIDS.
The former Margaret Mary O’Shaughnessy was inspired to take up the law after reading law books in the study of a neighbor and judge for whom she baby-sat as a teen.
When Heckler entered BC Law in 1953, she was one of two women in her class. “I was always a great debater and I loved a challenge, so I had no fear of going into law even though almost no women were doing it back then,” she recalled. Later, in Congress, she co-founded the Congresswomen’s Caucus and pushed for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, equal credit laws, Social Security enhancements for women spouses, and small business funding for women entrepreneurs.
She accomplished all this, she said, by following her life’s mantra: “Work hard, study hard, and pray hard.”