Former Missouri First Lady Betty Cooper Hearnes dies at 96

 December 16, 2023

Missouri politics lost one of its former influential figures this week. 

According to KFVS-12, former Missouri First Lady Betty Cooper Hearnes passed away at her Charleston home last Thursday, reported Mississippi County Coroner Terry Parker.

Hearnes was 96.

She passed away surrounded by her family, including her children and grandchildren.


Hearnes established a long career in Missouri politics, holding a number of titles throughout her decades of public service.

The Southeast Missourian noted:

Hearnes, a longtime Charleston, Missouri, resident, was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 1979 and reelected four times. In 1987, she was elected chairwoman of the Missouri Democratic Party. In 1988, she was the Democratic nominee for governor of Missouri following an overwhelming victory in the Democratic primary.

Her former first lady credentials came as she was married to Democrat Warren Eastman Hearnes, the 46th governor of Missouri. He served as governor from 1965-1973.

They were married from 1947 until his death in 2009.

The state's Democratic Party released a statement on her passing, noting her years of public service and contributions to the party.

"The Missouri Democratic Party is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former First Lady Betty Cooper Hearnes, a devoted public servant and Democratic Party leader," a statement read.

Tributes pour in

"There’s no first lady of Missouri that I admired more than Betty Hearnes. Her do-it-all, have-fun and never-give-up attitude served her well throughout her extraordinary life of service to her community and state," said Jean Carnahan.

The outlet added:

"Who could have experienced what she has gone through in her life — serving as first lady of Missouri, running for governor, and she was a very effective state representative?” DeLay said. “She was the first lady of Charleston for many, many years. I hope she’s remembered for all she has done for the community of Charleston, the county of Mississippi and state of Missouri. We loved her so much.”

"There wasn’t anything she was afraid to tackle or fix for the better," her longtime friend, Terry A. Parker, said.

They added, "It doesn’t matter if it were personal problems, issues in the church, issues in the state — she was very selfless. I witnessed that a lot here in our local community when we’d be struggling economically — or families were struggling or down on their luck."

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