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emerging from STENNIS' hospital room, said the Senator would survive because, “He's got the will to live in spades.”
Coy (Hines) Stennis, his wife, 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 then.
STENNIS, serving as chairman of the Armed Services Committee and the Defense Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee during the 1970's, wielded more clout over military matters than perhaps any civilian except the President.
He was a consistent advocate of the need for a strong military.
"If there is one thing I'm unyielding and unbending on, it is that we must have the very best weapons," he once said.
He was a leading backer of the Vietnam War. However, in the war's waning days, he co-sponsored legislation to set limits on a President's power to commit American forces to combat without congressional consent.
A decade later, STENNIS opposed using that law—the War Powers Act of 1973—to permit President Ronald Reagan to keep Marine peacekeeping troops in Lebanon.
He condemned the Supreme Court's 1954 school desegregation decision, but in 1983, he switched and voted for an extension of the Voting Rights Act.
He later said he always supported the advancement of all races.
[From the New York Times, April 24, 1995]
JOHN C. STENNIS, 93, LONGTIME CHAIRMAN OF POWERFUL COMMITTEES IN
THE SENATE, DIES
(By David E. Rosenbaum)
Senator JOHN C. STENNIS, a courtly Mississippi Democrat who served in the Senate longer than all but one other person in history, died today at St. Dominic Jackson Memorial Hospital in Jackson, MS. He was 93 years old.
Mr. STENNIS died of complications of pneumonia, said Rex Buffington, director of the John C. Stennis Center for Public Service at Mississippi State University in Starkville.
When he retired on January 3, 1989, Mr. STENNIS had been in the Senate 41 years, 1 month and 29 days. Only Carl Hayden of Arizona, who retired in 1969 after 41 years and 10 months in the Senate, served longer.
Although he was President Pro Tempore of the Senate, a largely honorary position given to the Senator in the majority party who has the most seniority, and was chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the 100th Congress, his role in his last years on Capitol Hill was largely that of patriarch and teacher to younger Senators.
He no longer dominated legislation as he had in the 1960's and 1970's, when he was the most influential voice in Congress on military affairs and when, widely respected for his integrity, diligence and judgment, he was called upon time and again to investigate touchy political matters, particularly those that had embarrassed the Senate. It became routine to refer to him as the conscience of the entire institution.
In many respects, JOHN STENNIS was the last of the Senate's Southern barons-Democrats elected from one-party States who gained power through
seniority and often wielded it autocratically to block the more liberal initiatives of the Senators from the rest of the country. His support for the military was unswerving, and his advocacy of racial segregation was unalloyed for most of his career.
But in style and temperament, Senator STENNIS was cut from a mold different from most of the other Southerners who came to power shortly after World War II. He did not drink, smoke, swear in public or use racial epithets. Perhaps more important, he changed with the times, began supporting some civil rights measures, and, in his last elections, he ran well among black voters.
His colleagues from outside the South did not fear him so much as they liked and admired him. At the height of one of the battles over civil rights legislation that occupied the Senate in the 1960's, Senator Paul H. Douglas, Democrat of Illinois, a leader of the faction supporting the measure, declared, “If I were ever to have to go on trial, I would want JOHN STENNIS to be my judge."
It was his personal qualities that led Senator STENNIS' colleagues to choose him so often to head political inquiries. As early as 1954, when he was a junior Senator, he was named to the committee that investigated charges against Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R-WI).
Eight years later, he was put in charge of an investigation of accusations that the Pentagon was muzzling officers who wanted to speak up against communism. In 1967, he headed the investigation of Senator Thomas J. Dodd (D-CT), that led to Senator Dodd's censure for misuse of funds and to a new code of ethics for the Senate.
In 1973, President Richard M. Nixon took advantage of Senator STENNIS's reputation for integrity and proposed that, instead of turning over the Watergate tapes to the independent prosecutor, he allow the Senator to listen to them and authenticate summaries prepared by the White House.
Mr. STENNIS at first agreed. But when the prosecutor, Archibald Cox, objected to the suggestion and was discharged for his defiance, the STENNIS compromise collapsed.
Mr. STENNIS was chairman of the Armed Services Committee at the height of the Vietnam War, and President Nixon relied on him to defend the Administration against countless end-the-war amendments and efforts to cut the Pentagon's budget. More often than not, Mr. STENNIS was successful, despite opposition by most of his fellow Democrats.
Later, when President Jimmy Carter rejected some of the Pentagon's spending requests, Senator STENNIS tried to accommodate him, although, personally, he would have preferred a larger military budget.
Years later, the Senator said in an interview that he never tried to second-guess a President on foreign policy and military matters.
"I lean with the President on our system of government,” he declared, expressing a view that many modern Senators consider old-fashioned. “Makes no difference who he is. I would back those fellows on a lot of things."
While he often counseled young Senators and helped them through the parliamentary maze that the Senate, over time, has constructed for itself, Mr. STENNIS in his later years seemed to long for the days when junior Senators bided their time and held their tongues.
"I'm not blaming them,” he once said of his younger colleagues. “They come here on the average well-educated. But they don't have the maturity, if I may use that term. They don't have the experience in public affairs that the old-timer had. It takes time to mature.”
JOHN CORNELIUS STENNIS was born on August 3, 1901, in Kemper County in the red clay hills of eastern Mississippi. He was a member of one of the leading families in the rural county. His father was a farmer, but the Stennis' were known as professional people doctors, lawyers, teachers and legislators.
JOHN C. STENNIS graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Mississippi State University in 1923 and, four years later, received his law degree at the University of Virginia. A year out of law school, he was elected to the Mississippi Legislature, and that was followed by elections as district prosecuting attorney and circuit judge.
After 10 years on the bench, he ran in 1947 for the Senate seat vacated by the death of the flamboyant Senator Theodore G. Bilbo and was elected that November over five opponents. “I want to plow a straight furrow right down to the end of my row,” Mr. STENNIS asserted in that campaign. The philosophy seems to have guided the rest of his political career.
Until his last campaign, in 1982, he was never seriously challenged for re-election, and even then, facing a 34-year-old Republican, Haley Barbour, who made the Senator's advanced age a major issue, Mr. STENNIS won by about 2 to 1.
In his early days in the Senate, he worked 16 hours a day, staying in the Senate until it adjourned and then studying in the Library of Congress until it closed. He was, as an aide described him, “a plodder, a guy who would go over something once and then again and then again until he finally understood all the complexities."
Asked once what his hobby was, Mr. STENNIS said, “My work is my play and my play is my work.” That work often paid off in the currency of special projects for his constituents. The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, a massive public works project that opened in Mississippi in 1985, is his pyramid.
Few other Senators had such a commanding presence as Mr. STENNIS did in his heyday. When he stood on the floor to speak, he would start by snapping his fingers, making a sound that could be heard in every corner of the chamber, and a page would come scurrying with a glass of water.
Then, his throat cleared, he would rise behind the lectern on his desk at the rear of the chamber, and a hush would fall over the Senate. His speeches resembled lectures. He would not tolerate interruptions, often pointing his finger and making a “shush” sound when another Senator tried to speak.
He paced up and down the center aisle as he talked, with such resonance that, even after microphones were installed in the Senate, he often spoke without one.
His voice remained clear and his mind sharp as he grew older, but he had serious physical problems. He was shot and seriously wounded by a burglar at his home in 1973, and his left leg was amputated in 1984 because of cancer. But each time, he returned to his Senate work much sooner than expected.
But the injury and the illness took their toll. After he lost his leg, bars were constructed on his desk in the Senate chamber so he could pull himself out of his wheelchair and stand when he delivered one of his rare speeches on the floor.
Mr. STENNIS's friends said he suffered from extreme loneliness after his wife, the former Coy Hines, whom he called "Miss Coy,” died in 1983. They had been married more than 50 years.
After his retirement, Mr. STENNIS moved to the Mississippi State University campus at Starkville, the home of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and the John C. Stennis Center for Public Service, created by Congress to train young leaders. Also named for him is NASA's National Space Technology Laboratory near Bay St. Louis, MS. The John C. Stennis Space Center tests rocket motors. The Nation's newest aircraft carrier was christened the John C. Stennis and is scheduled to be commissioned next December.
“I do believe the most important thing I can do now is to help young people understand the past and prepare for the future,” Mr. STENNIS said in a 1990 interview while serving as executive-in-residence at Mississippi State.
In declining health, Mr. STENNIS lived in recent years in a nursing home in Madison, near Jackson. He is survived by two children, Margaret Womble, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and John H. Stennis, of Jack
Mr. Buffington said Mr. STENNIS' body will lie in state at the Old Capitol in Jackson on Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and then at DeKalb Presbyterian Church in DeKalb from 4-6 p.m. Graveside services are to be held at the DeKalb Cemetery on Wednesday at 11 a.m.
[From the Los Angeles Times, April 24, 1995)
JOHN C. STENNIS; LONGTIME SENATOR; LAWMAKER FROM MISSISSIPPI
CHAIRED ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE FOR 12 YEARS AND STRONGLY INFLUENCED MILITARY POLICY
(By a Times Staff Writer) Former Senator JOHN C. STENNIS (D-MS), a deeply religious defense hawk who served four decades in the Senate and exercised a major influence on U.S. military policy, died of pneumonia Sunday afternoon at St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson, MS. He was 93.
Nicknamed the “Conscience of the Senate" for his personal rectitude and his efforts to shape the upper House's code of ethics, STENNIS retired in 1988. He had undergone cardiovascular surgery in 1983 and a year later had his left leg amputated because of a malignant tumor in his upper thigh.
As chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee for 12 years, beginning in 1969, STENNIS played a key role in fighting off deep cuts in the defense budget. He opposed judicial efforts to desegregate public schools in 1954, but three decades later he supported extending the Voting Rights Act.
Close to eight Presidents, STENNIS was the last of the classic Southern gentlemen who so forcefully shaped the character of the mid-century Senate. He was crusty yet courtly, a stern moralist with an almost mystical devotion to the Senate.
"He was a great Senator in every way,” Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), said Sunday. “He was effective, respected and deeply appreciated by the people in Mississippi. He was truly a man of great stature."
STENNIS himself was more modest about his place in history. “How would I like to be remembered?” he mused in a 1985 interview. “I haven't thought about that a whole lot. You couldn't give me a finer compliment than just to say, 'He did his best.'”
Despite his genteel manners, STENNIS could be tough. Early in 1973, when the Senator was 71, he was held up by two young hoodlums in front of his home in northwest Washington. They robbed him and then shot him twice. One bullet pierced his stomach, pancreas and colon.
Surgeons at the Army's Walter Reed Hospital at first doubted he would survive. But then-President Richard Nixon, emerging from STENNIS' hospital room, predicted that the Senator would make it because “he's got the will to live in spades." Within 8 months, STENNIS was back on the Senate floor.
STENNIS attributed his remarkable recovery to prayer and to his excellent physical condition, achieved from years of exercising in the Senate gym.
“I just prayed that I could be useful again,” he said, reflecting on his ordeal. “That's what the consuming thought was, the consuming questioncould I survive and be useful? I decided that I could."
STENNIS displayed a different kind of toughness in 1954 when he served on the select committee that probed charges against the late Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R-WI), and became the first Senate Democrat to call for censure of the free-swinging Wisconsin lawmaker. Although STENNIS was a dedicated conservative and an outspoken foe of communism, he was offended by McCarthy's tactics.
During the censure debate, STENNIS rallied support from many colleagues who had been afraid to attack McCarthy. In a vigorous speech, he accused McCarthy of besmirching the Senate's good name with “slush and slime.”
That same year, STENNIS was one of the first members of Congress to caution against U.S. involvement in Indochina.
In a Senate speech delivered when the Eisenhower administration was considering intervention to prevent a French disaster in Vietnam, STENNIS presciently warned that committing U.S. ground forces could lead to "a long, costly and indecisive war.”
Yet 11 years later, when President Lyndon B. Johnson made a large-scale commitment to fight in Vietnam, STENNIS loyally backed his commander in chief. “Once the die is cast and once our flag is committed and our boys are sent out to the field, you will find solid support for the war from the South,” he said.
He also firmly backed defense spending throughout his career, supporting the Pentagon even when the Vietnam War made weapons procurement unpopular. “If there is one thing I'm unyielding and unbending on, it is that we must have the very best weapons," he once said.
As the Vietnam War wound down, however, STENNIS co-sponsored the War Powers Act of 1973, which limits the President's power to send troops into combat without congressional consent.
Senate liberals clashed frequently with STENNIS on subjects ranging from defense spending to civil rights, but they invariably praised him for his fairness and courtesy.
And those were the qualities he prized.
From the time he entered politics in 1928 as a member of the Mississippi Legislature, he tried to base his life on this motto: “I will plow a straight furrow right down to the end of my row.”
That slogan reflected his rural background. JOHN CORNELIUS STENNIS was born August 3, 1901, in DeKalb, Mississippi, and grew up on a cotton and cattle farm in what he described as the “poor end of the poor end” of his state. He graduated from Mississippi State University and the University of Virginia Law School, and served as a district attorney and circuit judge before entering politics.
His Scots Presbyterian parents taught him to appreciate the value of a dollar. “I was raised to believe waste was a sin,” he once said. STENNIS prac