Jackie Gingrich, first wife of Newt Gingrich, dies at 77

Story highlights

  • New Gingrinch's ex-wife battled cancer for years
  • She never talked on camera about their marriage, which ended in 1980
  • She taught high school math when it "was considered by many to be a man's field"
  • She was "smart" and "spunky" and "strong in her belief in God"

Jackie Gingrich, the first wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the mother of his two daughters, died Wednesday in Atlanta, according to the funeral home organizing her arrangements. She was 77.

The Almon Funeral Home in Carrollton, Georgia, did not give her cause of death, but Gingrich had battled cancer for years.

Jackie Gingrich never talked on camera about her marriage to the former speaker, which ended in 1980. Questions about their divorce have dogged her ex-husband for the past three decades, emerging again in late 2011 as he made a bid for the Republican nomination for president.

Newt Gingrich married Marianne Ginther, a 28-year-old congressional staffer, six months after his divorce from Jackie was final.

Jackie Gingrich was born Jacqueline May Battley on February 21, 1936, in Columbus, Georgia, the oldest of four children, the funeral home said.

She earned a mathematics degree from Auburn College in just three years so her sister, Carol, could start college right after high school, it said.

"Strong in her belief in God, she credited prayer, as well as medicine, for saving her life numerous times," the home said. "For decades, she served as a deacon and a volunteer at the First Baptist Church in Carrollton. She loved her church, her red hat ladies, bridge club, retired teachers lunch bunch and investment group."

    Jackie Gingrich taught mathematics at high schools in South Georgia and retired around the time her grandchildren were born so she could spend more time with them, the funeral home said.

    She spent her last year at an Atlanta retirement home.

    "Smart, spunky, determined, funny, a fighter -- she had sparkling blue eyes, a constant smile on her face and loved her family and friends. She was the first in her family to graduate from college and, at a time when math was considered by many to be a man's field, was often the only woman in her college math classes," the home said.

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