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(From the Oxford Eagle (Oxford, Mississippi), April 24, 1995)
MISSISSIPPIANS REMEMBER JOHN STENNIS
(By Jonny Miles)
JOHN CORNELIUS STENNIS, 93, a staunch proponent and defendant of Mississippi throughout his 41 years in the United States Senate, died Sunday of pneumonia at St. Dominic-Jackson Memorial Hospital.
According published reports, STENNIS had been hospitalized since Thursday. Since retiring from the Senate in 1988, plagued with medical problems (including the removal of his cancerous left leg), the former Senator had spent the last years of his life in failing health at St. Catherine's Village nursing home in Madison.
“The people of Mississippi have lost one of the greatest statesmen in the history of our State,” said Senator Trent Lott, who succeeded STENNIS in 1988. “Senator STENNIS was a tireless public servant who loved Mississippi and his country. We will remember his gentle manners, his dignity in adversity, and his determination always to plow a straight furrow.”
STENNIS' political religion, he remarked back in 1947, was to plow a straight furrow right down to the end of his row.
"He was the epitome of a statesman,” Lott said. “Mississippi was indeed fortunate that he was ours.”
Senator Thad Cochran, who served 8 years with STENNIS in the Senate, called the late lawmaker a “great Senator in every way. He was effective, respected and deeply appreciated by the people of Mississippi. He was truly a man of great stature. We have suffered a great loss.”
STENNIS, a Kemper County native and Mississippi A&M College graduate, began his four decades in Washington in 1947 by defeating five opponents in an election to fill the vacancy caused by fervent segregationist Senator Theodore G. Bilbo. In his long-held seat in the SenateSTENNIS served longer than any Senator except Arizona's Carl Hayden—the country lawyer from DeKalb was both witness and participant in historic changes in the Nation.
Very frequently, Mississippi—and STENNIS—were at the forefront of those changes. Though STENNIS ardently avoided the race-baiting politics of his predecessor, the desegregation issue became inescapable as STENNIS entered his second term as Senator. In 1965, he helped draft the Southern Manifesto, a letter of protest against the growing tide of integrationist politics in the South.
When integration became law, however, STENNIS' sympathies changed. Dr. Marty Wiseman, director of the John C. Stennis Institute for Government at Mississippi State University, said STENNIS adhered strictly to the Constitution.
"He appeared, in the early days, established in his position (favoring) State's rights,” Wiseman said. But the Senator "abhorred any type of violent reaction."
Some civil rights activists saw STENNIS opposition to racial violence as a moderate stance. The Senator avoided civil rights battles and, as often as he could, avoided racial issues altogether. By 1982, he had softened to the point of voting for an extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
"I didn't want to go back to the days of misunderstanding,” he told The Associated Press later. “I didn't want to turn around and go back. I always rejoiced to see blacks or anyone else have better opportunities.”
“He seemed to always have a set of principles regardless of the politics," explained Wiseman. “I don't recall him doing anything for political expediency.”
STENNIS was considered a formidable power in the U.S. Senate for his chairmanships of both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the defense subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee in the 1970s. He was also afforded respect for his unyielding ethical stances, which garnered him the tag of “the conscience of the Senate.”
"He always had the idea that the people who put him there expected him to be honorable,” Wiseman said. "He wanted to give the taxpayers a dollar's worth of service for a dollar's worth of work. He treated it like a trust. He was the pattern that the rest of the cloth was cut from.”
STENNIS' body will lie in state Tuesday at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson and later at the DeKalb Presbyterian Church. Graveside services will be Wednesday at Pinecrest Cemetery in DeKalb.
(From the Daily Leader (Brookhaven, Mississippi), April 24, 1995)
LEADERS SAY HE WAS TRUE STATESMAN
JACKSON, MS (AP)Current and former Mississippi political leaders are mourning the death of former U.S. Senator JOHN C. STENNIS, whom they are calling a true statesman.
"He was one of the great statesmen for our Nation in the 20th century," U.S. Representative G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery, (D-MS), said. “I believe history will record Senator STENNIS as a true son of the South.”
STENNIS, who retired in 1988 after 41 years in the U.S. Senate, died Sunday of pneumonia. He was 93.
"JOHN STENNIS was a statesman for the ages," said former Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus, now the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “The Mississippi gentleman and close friend will be greatly missed by every generation in our State. Most of all we'll miss his easygoing nature and his wise legislative skill."
Former Governor William Winter, who once served as the Senator's legislative director in Washington, said STENNIS was his “political hero and represented for me what a public leader ought to be like. We shall not see his likes again.”
STENNIS began his public service in 1928 in the Mississippi Legislature, then served as a district attorney and circuit judge before joining the U.S. Senate, where he served as chairman of both the Armed Services Committee and the defense subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee during the 1970s.
Current Governor Kirk Fordice said, “All of Mississippi mourns for Senator JOHN C. STENNIS, one of the outstanding An cans ever to serve in the U.S. Senate. His service to this State was long and faithful.
“As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he was a key fixture in America's winning the Cold War. He will be greatly missed,” Fordice said.
Montgomery, first elected to Congress in 1966, said one of the last aircraft carriers planned for the U.S. "for quite a while" will be commissioned in Virginia in December and will bear the STENNIS name.
Montgomery, who served in Congress with STENNIS for 23 years, hopes the younger generation in Mississippi will learn about "a legend in our State. He's been out of office seven years and there is a tendency to forget. They shouldn't forget JOHN STENNIS.”
U.S. Senator Thad Cochran called it an honor to serve in Congress with STENNIS.
“He truly was a man of great stature. He will long be remembered as one of the finest Senators Mississippi has ever produced,” said Cochran (R-MS). “He never said anything bad about anybody else and looked for the good in others. He was appreciated for that. People noticed that.”
[From the Associated Press, April 24, 1995)
Ex-SENATOR JOHN C. STENNIS DIES
Former Senator JOHN CORNELIUS STENNIS was remembered as a man who wielded great power over military policy and Senate ethics but opposed virtually all civil rights legislation.
STENNIS died Sunday at St. Dominic Hospital, where he had been taken several days ago for pneumonia, said his son, John Hampton Stennis. He was 93.
During 41 years in the Senate, the Mississippi Democrat earned a reputation for fairness and finesse that landed him delicate committee assignments and close associations with eight U.S. Presidents.
“He was a great Senator in every way. He was effective, respected and deeply appreciated by the people in Mississippi,” said U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS).
As chairman of both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Defense Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee in the 1970s, STENNIS wielded more clout over military matters than perhaps any civilian but the President. He was a strong supporter of the Vietnam War.
“If there is one thing I'm unyielding and unbending on, it is that we must have the very best weapons,” STENNIS once said.
When he retired in 1988, STENNIS was the Senate's oldest member, and had served longer than all but one other, Carl Hayden of Arizona, who retired in 1969 after 42 years in the Senate.
Nicknamed the “conscience of the Senate" for his work on the Senate's code of ethics and his religious convictions, STENNIS overcame personal tragedy to continue public service.
He was wounded by robbers and left bleeding on the sidewalk near his northwest Washington home in 1973. Coy Hines Stennis, his wife of 52 years, died in 1983. And in 1984, he lost his left leg to cancer, and had to use a wheelchair.
“Discouraged? I suppose everybody's had his ups and downs. But I've never surrendered,” STENNIS said in 1984.
Although STENNIS never made racial issues his primary focus in the Senate, he did support segregation and was a staunch member of the Southern wing of his party.
He condemned the Supreme Court's 1954 school desegregation decision and voted against virtually all civil rights legislation. But in 1983, he voted for an extension of the Voting Rights Act.
“I didn't want to go back to the days of misunderstanding,” he told The Associated Press later. "I didn't want to turn around and go back. I always rejoiced to see blacks or anyone else have better opportunities.”
After becoming Armed Services chairman in 1969, STENNIS firmly supported President Nixon's requests to extend the Vietnam War.
In the war's waning days, he co-sponsored the War Powers Act of 1973, which sets limits on a President's power to commit American forces to combat without Congressional consent. But a decade later, he opposed forcing President Reagan to abide by the law in order to keep Marine peacekeepers in Lebanon.
STENNIS was born August 3, 1901, in DeKalb and graduated from Mississippi State University in 1923 before attending the University of Virginia Law School.
He began his public service in 1928 in the Mississippi Legislature, then served as a district attorney and circuit judge before joining the U.S. Senate.
STENNIS' body will lie in state Tuesday at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson and later at the DeKalb Presbyterian Church. Graveside services will be Wednesday at Pinecrest Cemetery in DeKalb, his hometown.
[From the Washington Post, April 24, 1995)
FORMER SENATOR JOHN STENNIS, DEFENSE AUTHORITY, DIES AT 93
(By Richard Pearson)
JOHN C. STENNIS, 93, the courtly and conservative Mississippi Democrat who during more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate became one of its most powerful members, died April 23 at a hospital in Jackson, MS. He had been admitted several days before with pneumonia.
Senator STENNIS was a state circuit court judge little known in Washington and something of an authority on farming when he was elected to the Senate in 1947, saying that he was a segregationist who would work to preserve “the Southern way of life.”
Before he left office in January 1989, he had served as the Senate's President Pro Tempore and had been chairman of both its Armed Services and Appropriations committees. Over the years, he also had been chosen by his colleagues for other assignments, often difficult ones that brought him little thanks outside the Capitol.
He served on the committee that investigated the conduct of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R-WI) in 1954. He became the first Senate Democrat to take on McCarthy, accusing him of using “slush and slime” in pursuit of ever-elusive communists.
He was chosen in 1965 as the first chairman of the Select Committee on Standards and Conduct. He wrote the Senate's first code of ethics. And he served on the Senate committee that investigated President Richard M. Nixon's involvement in Watergate.
But it was as Armed Services chairman from 1969 to 1981 that he wielded vast influence over the country and vast power within the Senate. If he ran a tight ship, he did it with fairness and integrity, as well as sagacity.
Upon learning of Senator STENNIS's death, Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) hailed him as “a great Senator in every way. He was effective, respected and deeply appreciated by the people in Mississippi. He was truly a man of great stature. We have suffered a great loss."
Testament to his grit were two events that involved personal adversity. In 1973, while walking near his Washington home, he was shot and left for dead by robbers. In 1984, he lost a leg to cancer and could return to work only in a wheelchair. On both occasions, he went back to work well before his physicians thought it likely and returned to standing ovations.
He won a special election to the Senate as a moderate segregationist alternative to two white supremacist candidates. He was an author of the 1954 "Southern Manifesto,” which denounced the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that outlawed racial segregation in public schools, and voted against all civil rights legislation until 1982, when he announced his support for extension of the Voting Rights Act. He opposed civil rights with some decorum, unlike his less-restrained longtime Senate colleague from Mississippi, James O. Eastland.
Senator STENNIS often confined himself to taking mildly sly shots at northern Senators for what he called their hypocrisy in denouncing the South while glossing over racial problems in their own States. He did not use "race" as a campaign issue.
On defense issues, he changed little over the years. He was a Senator who had come to office at the birth of the Cold War and the beginning of a long arms race. He never doubted the wisdom of having a national defense that was second to none in the world, and he supported every President on requests concerning national security.
Before U.S. troops were engaged in Vietnam, he cautioned against involvement in combat operations, taking the Senate floor to warn that the eventual result might not be victory but a painful choice between endless conflict or running. Yet once U.S. forces were committed, he supported the action to the bitter end.
His influence was enormous. He not only was chairman of the Armed Services Committee but he also headed the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, giving him double-barreled influence over defense spending.
He was no puppet of either the Defense Department or the White House. He insisted on value for dollar from armed services and defense contractors. In 1971, he joined Senators who introduced legislation that required Congressional authority for the President to maintain military combat operations after a specified period.
“The decision to make war is too big a decision for one mind to make and too awesome for one man to bear,” he said. “There must be a collective judgment given and a collective responsibility shared.”
In the 1970s, the country and many of the younger Senators in his own party seemed to be in revolt against the beliefs if not the person of Senator STENNIS. He lost an important turf battle when a separate intelligence oversight committee was established, outside the control of the Armed Services Committee.
In 1982, perhaps sensing that illness and age were slowing the Senator down, Haley Barbour, now chairman of the Republican National Committee, mounted a well-financed, intelligent and vigorous campaign for the seat. Since 1947, Senator STENNIS had run largely unopposed, and many wondered if he would even run for reelection. Senator STENNIS ran, carrying all but two counties with 64 percent of the vote.
His last term seemed at times like a long valedictory. He mostly declined to speak about civil rights issues, saying the climate had changed since he came to office and saying he always had favored the advancement of both