CLEVELAND – A former president and a presidential hopeful were among those who paid tribute Saturday to the late Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Ohio's first black congresswoman who was remembered as a pioneering spirit, loyal friend and dedicated public servant.
Former President Bill Clinton called Jones one of his family's closest advocates and advisers, recalling how she tirelessly worked to help Hillary Rodham Clinton's failed presidential bid, even as it was in its final stages.
"You have given me and my family more, you have given your people and this country more than you will ever know," Clinton said.
Tubbs Jones died Aug. 20 at age 58 of a brain hemorrhage caused by an aneurysm. Hundreds of people, including family, friends and well-wishers, packed the memorial service at Public Hall in downtown Cleveland to remember her.
Besides being the Ohio's first black congresswoman, Tubbs Jones was also the first black woman to serve on the powerful House Ways and Means committee, and serve in Ohio as a county judge, common pleas judge and prosecutor.
"If this work was hard or overwhelming, if she ever felt any loneliness in so often being the first, you never would've known it," Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said. "Because Stephanie was not a complainer. She always had that big smile, even when times were tough. Self-pity was never an option as far as Stephanie was concerned."
Obama said the loyalty Tubbs Jones showed to his chief rival for his party's nomination spoke to her strength of character.
"During this most recent contest, Stephanie and I started off on different sides and she -- we would see each other and she just said to me, 'This is what it means to be a friend for me,"' Obama said. "And all I could say is 'I understand."'
Tubbs Jones, who chaired the House Ethics Committee, was a passionate opponent of the war in Iraq, voting in 2002 against authorizing the use of military force. Just as the war was starting in March 2003, she was one of only 11 House members to oppose a resolution supporting U.S. troops in Iraq.
She studied sociology at Case Western Reserve University on a full scholarship that she attributed to affirmative action efforts. After graduating, she worked for the city sewer district and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Tubbs Jones was also elected Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge and county prosecutor before running for Congress.
Her friends said Tubbs Jones could be irreverent -- she lovingly called Rep. Tim Ryan her "white son" -- and she routinely made her congressional staff traditional southern meals.
"What struck me most about Stephanie was how, even after a decade in Congress, she was so utterly unaffected by the ways of Washington," Obama said. "She was still a home girl. Stephanie couldn't put on airs if she tried."
Former Rep. Louis Stokes made Tubbs Jones his hand-picked successor in 1998 to represent Ohio's heavily Democratic 11th District. She served five terms.