Shirley Neil Pettis, 92, Former U.S. Congresswoman, Loma Linda Supporter, Passes to Her Rest

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Was LLU trustee; in Congress, won designation for Joshua Tree National Monument

Shirley Neil Pettis, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and a longtime supporter of Loma Linda University Health, passed to her rest in Rancho Mirage, California, on December 30, 2016. She was 92.

Born Shirley Neil McCumber in Mountain View, California, on July 12, 1924, to Harold Oliver and Dorothy Susan O’Neil McCumber, Shirley studied at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, and at the University of California at Berkeley. After the death of her first husband, Dr. John McNulty, in World War II, she married Jerry L. Pettis, a World War II flight instructor. Jerry Pettis would go on to become a self–made millionaire and a professor of economics at Loma Linda University. They raised two children, Peter and Deborah.

During her term in the House, Pettis used her seat on Interior and Insular Affairs to advance legislation protecting desert lands in her district.

Shirley Pettis held numerous positions within the private and public sectors, and along with her husband, was a founder and manager of the Audio Digest Foundation, a nonprofit affiliate of the California Medical Association that placed abstracts of medical journals and lectures on audio cassette tapes.

In 1975, Shirley won a special election to fill the 33rd Congressional District’s vacancy caused by the death of her husband, Jerry L. Pettis, who had served as that district’s congressional representative from 1966 until his untimely death in a plane crash. She was reelected to Congress for a second term, ultimately representing her district from April 29, 1975-January 3, 1979.

During her term in the House, Pettis used her seat on Interior and Insular Affairs to advance legislation protecting desert lands in her district. She secured wilderness status for nearly half a million acres in the Joshua Tree National Monument, which limited vehicular access and prohibited development. One of the first projects Congresswoman Pettis took on was completing passage of the California Desert Protection Bill that her husband started. Her hard work paid off. The Los Angeles Times wrote, “It was the most monumental piece of land legislation in our era.” In 1994, Joshua Tree became a U.S. National Park.

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