The first female U.S. attorney general, Janet Reno ’60, died at her home today in Miami-Dade County, Fla. after battling Parkinson’s disease for over 20 years, according to her sister Maggy Hurchalla. Reno was 78.
Reno studied chemistry as an undergraduate at Cornell, where she also led Cornell’s Women’s Student Government Association at a time when dorms and dining halls were segregated by gender. She then attended Harvard University and earned her J.D. in 1963.
In 2001, Reno acted as Cornell’s Senior Convocation speaker and was appointed a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of 1956 professor at Cornell for a three-year term.
The oldest of four siblings, Reno served for 14 years as the Dade County state attorney before becoming attorney general, The New York Times reported.
Working with President Bill Clinton’s administration, Reno directed the world’s largest justice and federal law-enforcement office from 1993 to 2001. She was the longest serving attorney general since before the Civil War, according to the University.
As attorney general, Reno oversaw high-profile convictions of criminals like Ted Kaczynski, the infamous “unabomber.” In 2000, she played a significant role in the government’s seizing of Elián González, a six-year-old Cuban refugee “at the center of an international custody battle and political tug of war,” according to The New York Times.
Under Reno’s leadership, the U.S. Justice Department prosecuted the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing and sued the tobacco industry “to reclaim federal health care dollars spent on treating illnesses caused by smoking,” The Times reported.
Reno also strongly advocated for “guaranteeing federal protection to women seeking abortions and safeguarding abortion clinics that were under threat,” according to The Times.
“Janet Reno was an inspiration and trailblazer for so many women in law enforcement and government — including me. She will be dearly missed,” said current U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch on Twitter today.
According to CNN, Clinton said he and his wife — Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton — were “deeply saddened” by Reno’s passing, calling her “an extraordinary public servant who dedicated her life to advancing justice, equality and innovations in criminal justice that would save and lift lives.”
“As attorney general for all eight years of my presidency, Janet worked tirelessly to make our communities safer, protect the vulnerable and to strike the right balance between seeking justice and avoiding abuse of power,” Clinton said.
Interim President Hunter Rawlings also praised Reno’s life of accomplishments, saying she distinguished herself “by remaining true to her principles and to herself.”
“Janet’s integrity, intelligence and toughness quelled critics’ calls for her resignation in times of roiling controversy that threatened to engulf her,” he said. “She leaves an extraordinary legacy of achievement under duress and unshakable dignity in the face of enormous challenge. We take great pride that this singularly accomplished woman of ‘firsts,’ this Cornellian who commanded the world stage, was one of us.”