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Ann McLaughlin Korologos, Reagan-era labor secretary, dies at 81

Ms. Korologos (middle) greeted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Abelag airport in Brussels in 2005. Ambassador to Belgium, Tom Korologos, was between them.GEERT VANDEN WIJNGAERT

Ann McLaughlin Korologos, a labor secretary during the Reagan administration whose career in politics and public affairs included heading a counterterrorism panel that warned of security gaps in US air travel over a decade before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, died Monday at a hospital in Salt Lake City. She was 81.

Her husband, Tom Korologos, a former US ambassador to Belgium, said the cause was complications from meningitis.

Outside of politics, Ms. Korologos was an influential figure in business. She was often hailed as a glass-ceiling breaker for women as a member of corporate boards, including Microsoft’s and of the Federal City Council, which promotes development in Washington.

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Her earlier marriage, to John McLaughlin, a former Jesuit priest who became a conservative stalwart and bombastic talk-show host, offered her added spotlight as half of a Washington celebrity couple.

When President Reagan nominated Ms. Korologos for the position of labor secretary in 1987, he worked in a joke about the slash-and-burn personality of her spouse: “If she’s handled John McLaughlin this long, she can handle anybody.”

As labor secretary during the final year of the Reagan administration, Ms. Korologos (whose name at the time was Ann Dore McLaughlin) faced criticism from some fellow Republicans for her strong support for affirmative-action policies. But she remained within the GOP fold on most key issues such as opposition to federal mandates on parental leave and other labor regulations.

In one of her final acts in the Cabinet post, she issued a report that presciently outlined some of the critical issues ahead on immigration and a globalized economy.

The document focused on the needs to address "labor market shortages" through immigration and opportunities for minorities. The report also appealed for more government attention on training workers in jobs such as high-tech manufacturing to compete with rising Asian economies and other rivals.

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“We’re on the slippery slope in the wrong direction,’’ she told The Washington Post at the time.

In September 1989, she was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to head a special panel on aviation security, prompted by the 1988 bomb blast on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that claimed 270 lives.

The findings, presented to Bush in 1990, gave a worrisome picture of apparent shortfalls in security protocols by the Federal Aviation Administration and lack of coordination with intelligence agencies and other counterterrorism groups.

The seven-member commission placed much of the blame for the Lockerbie tragedy on what it termed a "seriously flawed" aviation security system that began with weak controls by Pan Am security in Frankfurt and London and was aggravated by a failure of the FAA to enforce its own safety rules.

"Terrorists were able to place a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 not because some one thing failed," the 182-page report said, "but because the aviation security system failed."

Among the most stunning part of the report was its recommendations calling for greater emphasis on “planning and training for preemptive or retaliatory military strikes against known terrorist enclaves in nations that harbor them.”

The report provided the foundations for the Aviation Security Improvement Act of 1990, which gave the FAA more tools for threat assessments and mandated bomb-detection screening for baggage.

Two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, lawmakers in the House debated sweeping new security steps for air travel. Representative James Oberstar of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat of the House Transportation Committee, looked back on Ms. Korologos’s committee for its far-reaching views on security measures.

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"It just has not been vigorously enforced," he said with deep understatement.

Ann Marie Lauenstein was born on Nov. 16, 1941, in Newark, N.J., as her father began work as a representative for a munitions-manufacturing company during World War II.

She graduated in 1963 from Marymount College in Tarrytown, N.Y., and she found her first job in the public relations offices at ABC-TV.

An early marriage to William Dore, a stockbroker, ended in divorce. In 1968, she was the director of alumnae relations at her alma mater when she met McLaughlin, then a Jesuit priest giving a speech at the school. Two years later, he persuaded her to run his Republican campaign for a Senate seat in Rhode Island.

McLaughlin lost, but they both headed into Nixon’s orbit. McLaughlin was a speechwriter, and Ms. Korologos directed the press office for the reelection campaign.

With Nixon’s victory, she was rewarded with posts that included director of public affairs at the Environmental Protection Agency from 1973 to 1974. Ms. Korologos became a relentless defender of Nixon even as Watergate began to pull apart his presidency. McLaughlin, too, was such a staunch loyalist; he became known as the “Watergate priest.”

They also were at personal crossroads. "I really had to face up to the fact that I loved Ann," he later said. McLaughlin left the priesthood, and they married in 1975.

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After Nixon’s resignation in 1974, Ms. Korologos joined the chemical corporation Union Carbide as No. 2 in the corporate communications office. Reagan’s election in 1980 brought her back into politics, serving in roles including undersecretary of the interior before becoming labor secretary — confirmed by the Senate on a 94-0 vote in December 1987.

In 1996, she became chairman at the Aspen Institute think tank and served on boards including Nordstrom, the Rand Corporation, and the Federal National Mortgage Association.

She also was drawn at times into defending McLaughlin, whose browbeating style on the PBS show “The McLaughlin Group” made him an easy target for critics and turned him into a front-line fighter in the political culture wars. Ms. Korologos stood by McLaughlin after a female office manager filed a sexual harassment suit against him. The case was settled out of court in 1989.

“I’m raising John McLaughlin,” Ms. Korologos said in 1988 in response to a question about possible regrets about never having children of her own.

They divorced in 1992, and McLaughlin died in 2016. She leaves her husband of more than 22 years; three stepchildren, Ann Bazzarone, Philip Korologos, and actress Paula Cale Lisbe; eight grandchildren; and one great-grandson.

In 2007, Ms. Korologos purchased an art gallery in Basalt, Colo., that features contemporary Western art.

In the late 1980s as labor secretary, Ms. Korologos made a prediction about the decades to come that came true: More women and minorities, she said, would be getting university degrees and overtake white men in the college-educated workforce. A Pew Research Center analysis of government data in September found that women accounted for 50.7 percent of the college-educated labor force in the United States.

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“When a statistic gets to be 50 percent, it’s no longer a statistic,” she once said. “It’s a way of life.”