Jan Meyers, who was the first Republican woman elected to the House from Kansas and one of the chamber’s highest-ranking women as chair of the Small Business Committee, died at a hospital in Merriam, Kan., near her longtime home of Overland Park on June 21. She was 90.
The cause was complications of heart disease, said her daughter, Valerie J. Meyers.
At home with two young children, growing restless as her husband immersed himself in a television career, Jan Meyers decided to create a five-point plan for self-improvement. Near the top of the list — along with baking from scratch, her daughter recalled, which “did not last terribly long” — was community involvement.
So Ms. Meyers, a former radio station advertising assistant, joined the League of Women Voters in her northeast Kansas county. By the early 1960s she had developed a fascination with civic issues, ranging from street repair to the establishment of a community college, and embarked on a political career that took her from the city council to the state Senate to the U.S. House of Representatives.
When she became the the first Republican woman elected to the House from Kansas, she placed herself in the tradition of Susanna Madora Salter, who became the country’s first female mayor when she was elected to lead the small town of Argonia, Kan., in 1887.
Ms. Meyers, a moderate, represented a narrow stretch of northeast Kansas from 1985 to 1997, chairing the Small Business Committee for her final term. A handful of Democratic women had previously led congressional committees, but Ms. Meyers and Rep. Nancy Johnson of Connecticut, who chaired the Ethics Committee during that same period, were the first Republican women to hold House chairmanships in 40 years.
Positioning herself as a defender of small-business owners, she backed legislation to cut taxes and limit federal regulations, opposing the Clinton administration’s proposals for universal health care and family and medical leave.
Ms. Meyers also worked on welfare overhaul and helped create the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, which protects a section of the Flint Hills in eastern Kansas. Breaking with many members of her party, she favored abortion rights and gun control.
And while she generally stayed out of the spotlight as a lawmaker, she knew how to draw attention on the House floor for her constituents — once by linking fiscal policy to baseball.
“Mr. Speaker,” she declared in 1985, “on behalf of the Kansas City Royals and the people of the 3rd District of Kansas, I am here to gloat — respectfully, of course. After losing the first two games at home and down 3 to 1 in the series, the Royals became the first team in history to bounce back from such a deficit and win the World Series.”
“Obviously,” she continued, “the Kansas City Royals can teach us a thing or two about overcoming deficits.”
Janis Lenore Crilly was born in Lincoln, Neb., on July 20, 1928, and raised in Superior, a 3,000-person town just across the border from Kansas. Her father published the local newspaper, and her mother was a homemaker and amateur painter.
She received a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Nebraska in 1951, worked in radio advertising and in 1953 married Louis “Dutch” Meyers, a fellow Nebraska graduate who had worked with her in student theater. He became a TV sales executive and died in 2009.
In addition to her daughter, of Overland Park, survivors include a son, Philip Meyers of Santa Fe, who in 2000 ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. House seat as a Hawaii Republican; a brother; and a granddaughter.
Ms. Meyers ran unsuccessfully for the Kansas House in 1966 and served on the Overland Park City Council before being elected to the Kansas Senate in 1972.
She launched her U.S. House campaign after the retirement of Rep. Larry Winn, a Republican whom she had helped elect nearly two decades earlier, and won with 55 percent of the vote after plastering the district with “Jan Can” posters. (The state had previously elected two women to the House, both Democrats, the first being Kathryn O’Loughlin McCarthy in 1932.)
Ms. Meyers declined to run for reelection in 1996, saying, “There are other things in life I want to do, and being a member of Congress, if you take the job seriously, simply does not leave time.” Members of Congress, she added, should not hold office more than 14 years.
She later served on the boards of her county library and community college, as Kansas politics shifted rightward under Republicans such as Sam Brownback.