OMAHA -- Former US representative Virginia Smith, an agriculture advocate who represented Nebraska in Congress for 16 years, died yesterday in Arizona. She was 94.
Mrs. Smith was elected to the US House in 1974 after defeating seven men in the Republican primary and a Democrat in the general election. Her predecessor had not sought re-election.
''There is no person in public life that I have had a higher regard for than Virginia Smith," said Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. ''Virginia Smith worked hard, said it straight, and always did what she thought was right. She was a very special and unique person."
While representing central and western Nebraska, Mrs. Smith focused on water and agriculture.
''When you elected me, you made me your steward in the United States Congress, the steward of your industry, of our agriculture in Nebraska, the steward of your philosophy, your interests and your needs," Mrs. Smith said in 1989, when the Nebraska Farm Bureau gave her an award.
She was born in Randolph, Iowa, and met her husband, Haven Smith, while attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They married in 1931 and moved near Chappell, Neb., to operate a wheat farm.
Mrs. Smith was a member of the Department of Agriculture's Home Economics Research Advisory Committee from 1950 to 1960. From 1971 to 1972, she chaired the Presidential Task Force on Rural Development, and she also served on boards focusing on rural education, agricultural statistics, and commerce.
Mrs. Smith and her husband moved to Sun City West, Ariz., after she retired from Congress in 1991. He died in 1997.