Janet Reno, the first woman to serve as U.S. attorney general, died Monday at the age of 78 from complications of Parkinson's disease, her goddaughter told the Associated Press. Reno served President Bill Clinton's administration from 1993-2001.
Under Reno, who as the second-longest serving attorney general in history, the Justice Department dealt with several significant, challenging cases, including the 51-day standoff between a religious cult and federal agents in Waco, Texas, the capture and conviction of Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, and the capture and conviction of those responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Reno was criticized in 2000 for ordering a raid that sent six-year old immigrant Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba in the midst of an international custody battle between his Cuban father and his American relatives. She also authorized the investigation into Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
Standing at over six feet tall, Reno's appearance and blunt manner of speaking became part of a running joke on "Saturday Night Live," with actor Will Ferrel portraying the attorney general in an ongoing skit. Reno proved she was in on the joke, however, when she memorably appeared on the sketch comedy show the night of her retirement from office.
Reno was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1995 and battled the disease throughout her career as attorney general. After leaving the position in 2001, she ran for governor of Florida in 2002, though she lost the bid in the Democratic primaries.
Before becoming attorney general, Reno was the prosecutor for Dade County, Florida, from 1978 to 1993. Reno earned her bachelor's degree from Cornell University in 1960 before going on to attend Harvard Law School. The daughter of two journalists and the eldest of four siblings, Reno was born in 1938 in the Florida Everglades, a region she would return to later in life.
In her final days in office, Reno told PBS, "Until the day I die, or until the day I can’t think anymore, I want to be involved in the issues that I care about."
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