Ardent advocate for women in GOP

Anne Armstrong, a powerful Republican in the 1970s and '80s who advocated a greater role for women and served as U.S. ambassador to Britain in the Ford administration, died Wednesday. She was 80.

Armstrong had battled cancer and had been in a Houston hospice for about a week before her death, her assistant Kay Hicks said.

Armstrong and her husband, Tobin, were Republican stalwarts. She was a national leader of the Republican Party and Cabinet-level adviser to Presidents Nixon and Ford. Armstrong was also said to have made Ford's vice presidential “short list” in 1976 in his race against Jimmy Carter, according to news reports at the time.

Armstrong's name was again in the news in 2006 when Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot and wounded a fellow hunter during an outing at the Armstrong family's ranch in South Texas.

She was the first woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, taking the post in 1976.

At her swearing-in, Ford quipped that his wife was “always needling me” to appoint women to such posts. Armstrong replied that “I have the feeling Abigail Adams would have been just as excited as Betty Ford and I” about her selection.

A couple of months into her tenure, The New York Times reported that the British had “taken an instant liking to her … because she is visible and direct and informal without turning informality into a cloying down-home soupiness.”

More recently, Armstrong was an adviser on foreign intelligence to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

“Her public service was exemplary and set a high standard for all who recognized that government service is vitally important to our way of life,” former President Bush said in a statement.

During the Nixon administration, she became the co-chairman of the Republican National Committee and the sole female White House counselor. The women's liberation movement was in high gear, and she was a strong Republican advocate for reform.

“Republican men know there's been a change in Republican women,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1972. “Confidence breeds confidence.”