Story Highlights• Kirkpatrick was most recently senior fellow at American Enterprise Institute
• Former ambassador's health had been failing, assistant says
• Moment of silence held at U.S. mission to United Nations
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, a one-time Democrat who switched to the Republican Party and warmly embraced Reagan-era conservatism, has died. She was 80.
Kirkpatrick's death was announced Friday at the senior staff meeting of the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said spokesman Richard Grenell, who said that Ambassador John Bolton asked for a moment of silence. An announcement of her death also was posted on the Web site of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-oriented think tank here where she was a senior fellow.
Kirkpatrick's assistant, Andrea Harrington, said that she died in her sleep at home in Bethesda, Maryland late Thursday. She had been suffering from heart disease, but the cause of death was not immediately known. (Watch how Kirkpatrick "spoke clearly for liberty" )
Kirkpatrick's health had been in decline recently, Harrington said, adding that she was "basically confined to her house," going to work about once a week "and then less and less."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, said that Kirkpatrick, the first woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to the U.N., "stood up for the interests of America while at the U.N., lent a powerful moral voice to the Reagan foreign policy and has been a source of wise counsel to our nation since leaving the government two decades ago. She will be greatly missed."
Karlyn H. Bowman, a colleague of Kirkpatrick's at AEI, called her "always insightful. Always interesting. Very thoughtful about modern American politics and foreign policy. A wonderful colleague."
Bowman also said that Kirkpatrick had "served with great distinction" at the U.N. "She was a great patriot, a champion of freedom and we will certainly miss her at AEI and the country."
Kirkpatrick was known as a blunt and sometimes acerbic advocate for her causes. She remained involved in public issues even though she'd left government service two decades ago. She joined seven other former U.N. ambassadors in 2005 in writing a letter to Congress telling lawmakers that their plan to withhold dues to force reform at the world body was misguided and would "create resentment, build animosity and actually strengthen opponents of reform."
Bill Bennett, a former secretary of education under Reagan, the nation's drug czar under the first President Bush and a leading conservative opinion-maker, called her "very forceful, very strong, a daughter of Oklahoma, great sense of humor. She held her own."
Bennett said the Iraq Study Group so prominently in the news "would have been better with Jeane Kirkpatrick on it ... She had no patience with tyrannies, said they had to be confronted, you couldn't deal with tyrannies, that there were some people you could work with -- these people you couldn't."
Kirkpatrick once referred to herself as a "lifelong Democrat."
She actually switched to the GOP in early 1985, four years after Reagan sent her to New York for the U.N. job. She took with her a reputation as a hard-liner on foreign policy. Because of this, she often was a lightning rod for the opposition. In some respects, she was a controversial figure like Bolton, who recently decided to resign when it became clear the Senate would not approve him for the job on a full-time basis.
Kirkpatrick considered seeking the Republican presidential nomination that went to George H. W. Bush in 1988. She stopped that process short, however, retreating to the position that she would accept the No. 2 slot if asked. She had played a leading role at the party's convention four years earlier -- at a time when she was still a Democrat.
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Jeane Kirkpatrick was most recently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.