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Florida's Rep. Tillie Fowler Dies; Defense-Minded Republican

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 3, 2005; Page B06

Tillie Fowler, 62, a Republican who represented northeast Florida in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2001 and became one of the top-ranking women in her party, died of a brain hemorrhage March 2 at a hospital in Jacksonville.

Rep. Fowler, a champion of increased defense budgets during her years in Congress, had served since her retirement on the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, which aids the defense secretary on strategy and policy matters. She was appointed its chairman in summer 2003, succeeding Richard Perle, who stepped down amid allegations of conflicts of interest with his business ventures.


After serving four terms in Congress, Tillie Fowler led a panel investigating allegations of sexual misconduct at the U.S. Air Force Academy. (2003 Washington Post Photo)

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She was called on in recent years to work on panels investigating allegations of sexual misconduct at the U.S. Air Force Academy as well as prisoner abuse in Iraq. The academy panel, which she chaired, excoriated "the highest levels of Air Force leadership" for knowing about but doing little to deter serious sexual misconduct.

The Iraq panel, headed by former Defense secretary James Schlesinger, was critical of military and civilian leadership. Schlesinger, Rep. Fowler and other panel members said in later interviews that it would be a mistake for Donald H. Rumsfeld to resign.

Rep. Fowler was sometimes called the "Steel Magnolia" and was described as a hybrid of a Southern belle and a Marine drill sergeant.

She took these comments as compliments and saw her longtime friend Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) as an inspiration. She considered Dole a model of a working woman: "She doesn't have this hard edge that some women acquired along the way. . . . It's that part of her that makes her less threatening to some of the good ol' boys."

During her House career, Rep. Fowler became vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, the fifth-ranking GOP leader, and served for six years as a deputy majority whip.

She served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Armed Services Committee, the second a natural choice considering that the area around her district supports several naval installations. She assailed defense spending during the Clinton administration in comparison with budgets for peacekeeping missions abroad.

In the late 1990s, she tried to limit U.S. involvement in the warring Balkan region, saying she "could never look into the eyes of a mother or father or spouse or child of a soldier killed in Bosnia and say that American interests in Bosnia were worth their sacrifice."

She unsuccessfully fought the move by the federal government to shut down the Navy firing and training range in Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Her conservative line on defense issues extended to race-based preferences in education, immigration and environmental legislation. But a moderate side to her voting appeared on the abortion issue. She once said, "As the mother of two daughters, it is horrifying to me to think of anyone's daughter having to suffer the consequences of rape or incest without recourse."

Tillie Kidd Fowler was born Dec. 23, 1942, in Milledgeville, Ga. Her father, Culver Kidd, was a Democrat who served in the Georgia legislature for four decades.

He pushed his daughter to pursue a profession, she once told a Jacksonville reporter, because he had seen widowed women during the Depression unable to earn a living. She said her father called her naturally argumentative, and thus it was decided she should go to law school.

After graduating from Emory University and its law school in the mid-1960s, Rep. Fowler spent three years as a legislative assistant to Rep. Robert G. Stephens Jr. (D-Fla.) because no Atlanta firm would hire a female litigator, she said.


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