Pettis, Shirley Neil (1924—)

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Pettis, Shirley Neil (1924—)

U.S. Republican congressional representative, 94th–95th Congresses (April 29, 1975–January 3, 1979). Name variations: Shirley Pettis-Robe; Shirley Neil Pettis-Robe; Shirley McCumber Pettis-Robe. Born Shirley Neil McCumber on July 12, 1924, in Mountain View, Santa Clara County, California; daughter of Harold Oliver McCumber and Dorothy Susan (O'Neil) McCumber; graduated from Andrews University Academy, 1942; attended Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, 1942–43, and the University of California, Berkeley, 1944–45; married Jerry Lyle Pettis (a politician and congressional representative,died 1975); married Ben Robe, in 1988; children: Peter Dwight Pettis;Deborah Neil Pettis .

Co-founded and managed the Audio-Digest Foundation (1950–53); was a newspaper columnist for the Sun-Telegram , San Bernardino, California (1967–70); served as vice president of Republican Congressional Wives Club (1975); elected as a Republican to the 94th Congress, by special election (April 29, 1975); reelected to the 95th Congress; was vice president, Women's Research and Education Institute, Washington, D.C. (1980–81); was a member of the Arms Control and Disarmament Commission (1981–83), and Commission on Presidential Scholars (1990–92); was a member, board of directors, Kemper National Insurance Companies (1979—).

Shirley Pettis was born in Mountain View, California, in 1924, the daughter of Harold Mc-Cumber and Dorothy O'Neil McCumber . She attended public schools in the 1930s in Berkeley, California, and Berrien Springs, Michigan, graduating from Andrews University Academy in 1942. Pettis attended Andrews University in Berrien Springs in 1942 and 1943, returning to Berkeley to spend a further two years studying at the University of California, Berkeley.

In 1950, Pettis co-founded the Audio-Digest Foundation, which she managed until 1953. When her husband, Jerry L. Pettis, was elected to Congress in 1966, she became a columnist for the Sun-Telegram in San Bernardino, writing for the newspaper from 1967 until 1970. Pettis' direct involvement in political life began in 1975, when she became vice president of the Republican Congressional Wives Club. After her husband was killed in a private airplane crash, she ran for his seat in the special election held on April 29, 1975. Securing over 60% of the vote against three other candidates, Pettis was elected as a Republican to the 94th Congress and subsequently reelected to the 95th Congress, serving until 1979.

During her time in Congress, Pettis was appointed to the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, which she used to gain legislation protecting the deserts in her district. She was able to secure wilderness status for nearly half a million acres in the Joshua Tree National Monument, establishing the California Desert Conservation area. Pettis also served on the Committee on Education and Labor and the Committee on International Relations.

Pettis decided not to stand for reelection to the 96th Congress. She became vice president of the Women's Research and Education Institute in Washington, D.C., in 1980, joining the Arms

Control and Disarmament Commission in 1981. A member of the board of directors of Kemper National Insurance Companies from 1979, Pettis also served on the Commission on Presidential Scholars from 1990 to 1992.


Office of the Historian. Women in Congress, 1917–1990. Commission on the Bicentenary of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1991.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York