Janet Reno, the first woman to serve as attorney general of the United States, died early Monday from complications of Parkinson's disease at home in Miami surrounded by family and friends. She was 78.
Reno, who served nearly eight years as attorney general, the longest run in a century, had no ties to President Bill Clinton when he named her to the job. But as the top prosecutor in Miami-Dade County, a position she had been elected to four times over 15 years, and as a woman, she made headlines for tackling the position in her own way. She famously told reporters "I don't do spin" and "the buck stops with me."
"It's an extraordinary experience, and I hope I do the women of America proud," Reno said after she won confirmation.
Her major cases include serving a warrant to search for illegal guns on the Branch Davidian compound lead by sect leader David Koresh in Waco, Texas. Reno order a raid that resulted in 76 deaths, including as many as 25 children.
"We'll never know whether it was a mistake or not, in one sense," Reno admitted shortly before leaving office. "But knowing what I do, I would not do it again. I would try to figure another way."
She also oversaw prosecutions in the World Trade Center 1993 bombing and in the Oklahoma City federal building 1995 bombing. Reno later traveled to Miami in April 2000 to try to help six-year-old Cuban refugee Elián González, who was staying with his great-uncle but was eventually returned to Cuba to his only living parent. Cubans in Miami did not want the boy sent home to Cuba after his mother died while taking him to Miami by raft.
Born July 21, 1938, Reno was the daughter of two newspaper reporters and the oldest in a family of four children. She was 6'2" tall and often lampooned by comedian Will Ferrell on NBC's Saturday Night Live for her height and no frills speaking mannerisms.
Former Solicitor General Dellinger said her height prepared her for the job. "This is a woman that went to Cornell and Harvard Law School at a time when very few women went to Harvard Law School, went through junior high and high school being twice as tall as anybody else and probably twice as smart..... and that's really, really tough," he said.
Hillary Clinton, who is running to become the first woman president, didn't mention Reno's death Tuesday on her Twitter feed. Reno was never particularly close to the Clintons, especially after she opted to allow an independent inquiry into a failed Clinton land deal in Arkansas in what become known as the Whitewater investigation.
Reno ran for Florida governor in 2002 but lost in a Democratic primary to Tampa lawyer Bill McBride.
"She was the least air-brushed candidate we have ever had for a cabinet-level position," Jamie Gorelick, who served as deputy attorney general and was assigned to prepare Reno for her attorney general confirmation hearing, told NPR. "She was herself and she didn't change herself for Washington."
Asked about her legacy after her gubernatorial campaign, Reno quoted George Washington: "If I were to write all that down I might be reduced to tears. I would prefer to drift on down the stream of life and let history make the judgment."