WASHINGTON — Former Rep. Gladys Noon Spellman, stricken by a heart attack in 1980 and comatose since then, died Sunday in a nursing home here. She was 70.
Mrs. Spellman, a Democrat who represented Maryland's 5th District near Washington, was re-elected to her fourth term with 80% of the vote eight days after her heart stopped beating temporarily on Oct. 31, 1980.
Her House seat was declared vacant in 1981 after doctors said Mrs. Spellman, who was able to breath without life-support equipment, was in a "trance-like state" and unable to take the oath of office.
It was the first time the House vacated the seat of a member who had become mentally or physically disabled.
Democrat Steny Hoyer won a special election May 19, 1981, after a primary that included 32 Republican and Democratic candidates, including Mrs. Spellman's husband, Reuben.
Mrs. Spellman had spent much of her three terms in Congress pushing for road improvements and benefits for federal workers.
"Her contributions have made life better for all Marylanders, not just those living in her district," said Bob Douglas, spokesman for Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
"She was probably one of the best Maryland public servants in terms of constituent services, from fixing potholes to the great coup of getting the federal government to pay for paving the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, which was no easy task," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.).
In 1982 the parkway linking the two cities was renamed the Gladys Noon Spellman Parkway.
Mrs. Spellman began her political career in 1962 when she was elected to the Prince George's County Board of Commissioners.