A former state senator from Cedarville who often described herself as an "old warhorse" has died.

Ruth Whitaker, 77, who served for a decade as a state Senator from Cedarville, died Monday in Northwest Arkansas surrounded by her family and close friend, former State Rep. Sarah Agee.

Former State Rep. Rick Green of Van Buren recalls Whitaker often calling herself an "old warhorse" in his presence.

"She was a champion of public service, personal rights, liberty and service to our community, state and country," Green said.

From 2001-13, Whitaker, a Republican, represented District 3, which was comprised of Crawford, part of Washington, and Franklin counties in northwest Arkansas. She also served as Senator minority leader.

Whitaker was unable to seek re-election due to term limits.

"Ruth Whitaker was a strong, independent Arkansan who didn’t fear anyone or shy away from anything," Gov. Mike Beebe. "While we didn’t always agree politically, most conversations between Ruth and me would still end with both of us laughing."

Beebe said Whitaker carried a deep love of Arkansas and her people.

"I will miss her wry smile and sensibility," the governor said.

Jackie Krutsch, executive director of the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce said Whitaker was a trail blazer for women in Crawford County.

"She was never afraid to speak her mind," Krutsch said. "If you had a project and wanted her involvement or support, you had better be prepared to make your case. She was willing to help if you knew what you were selling and could back it up."

Whitaker and her late husband, Dr. T. J. Whitaker, shared their wealth with the community in many projects and did so with a request that their contributions be anonymous, Green recalls.

"Senator Whitaker was a strong force in the building of the Arkansas Republican Party and the Crawford County Republican Party and she was a force in shaping the rules of the Arkansas State Senate as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee," Green said.

He said Whitaker was always a champion of veterans and insisted that proper decorum and respect was given when the nation’s flag was presented.

"Her hard exterior was only permeated by those who were the closest to her," Green said. "If you met Senator Whitaker and left without an impression of who she was, that had to be your own fault as she never mixed words or refrained from being direct about where she stood on issues that were important to her."

She was preceded in death by her husband, Dr. T. J. Whitaker, in 2002 and is survived by a son, Dr. Brian Whitaker and wife Carol of Fayetteville; and a daughter, Alicia Viers and husband Ron of Cedarville. She had three granddaughters, Emily and husband Aric Zantow of St. Louis, Mo., Madeline Whitaker of Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Amelia Whitaker of Fayetteville.

She was a member of the Arkansas Federation of Republican Women and past president of the Women’s Auxiliary to the American Medical Association of Sebastian County. She was elected secretary of the Arkansas State Republican Party from 1992-1994 and has held other appointments in the state party, including vice chairman and parliamentarian.

She was a lifetime member of the American Legion Auxiliary and the Alden Kindred of America tracing her lineage back to the first settlers aboard the Mayflower.

Her funeral arrangements are pending at Nelson-Berna Funeral Home in Fayetteville.