Agatha Barbara, 78; Education Reformer and Former Maltese Leader

Agatha Barbara, 78, a former schoolteacher who became Malta’s first female lawmaker, minister and president, died Monday of a suspected heart attack in Zabbar, Malta.

Born in that town, Barbara was known as an education reformer who brought full-time learning to Maltese children, who previously had gone to school only a few hours a day. Her campaign required the hiring and training of hundreds of teachers.

First elected to parliament on the Labor Party ticket in 1947, Barbara won every reelection until 1981.

Barbara, who had been named minister of education in 1955, was nominated president of the republic in 1982 and completed her five-year term.

In 1958, after the Labor Party resigned from office, Barbara was sentenced to 43 days in prison for her role in a national strike called by the party to protest the British government’s plan to reduce its presence in Malta.