Janet Reno was a prosecutor, a politician, and a pioneer — a brainy South Floridian who grew up barefoot among peacocks and alligators and rose to the highest levels of government as the nation’s first female attorney general. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1995, two years after President Bill Clinton appointed her to his cabinet. Reno has died at age 78, reports the Miami Herald. Controversy and high drama marked her eight-year tenure: FBI shootouts at Ruby Ridge and Waco, the Elián González, Wen Ho Lee and Unabomber cases, Clinton’s impeachment and the Oklahoma City federal-building bombing. Ruthlessly honest, stubborn, smart, and dryly dismissive of those she thought foolish, Reno served as Miami-Dade state attorney for 15 years, establishing a drug court that became a national model.
She frequently bucked the White House, yet became the second longest-serving U.S. attorney general. Tall in both stature and reputation — she stood 6-foot-1 — Reno minced few words and met challenges head on, propensities that placed her at the center of social turbulence in the 1980s and ’90s. She became known as a “swamp woman” and an “Everglades exotic” who mispronounced Ted Koppel’s name on “Nightline.” Will Ferrell’s caricature of her in the “Saturday Night Live” sketch, “Janet Reno’s Dance Party,” cemented her iconic status. She grew up in a household where freedom of thought was prized, characters were embraced, and a single rule applied: Tell the truth and don’t cheat. Known for her short answers to reporters’ long questions, she bristled when critics implied she didn’t understand politics. She told a Herald reporter in 1998: “If you can get elected five times in Miami, I think you understand politics.”