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The Reverend Jerry A. McBride of St. James Episcopal Church in Jackson said STENNIS was "above all a man of faith" who "saw his life, every day of it, as a way to serve people."
Mack McLarty, Clinton's former chief of staff and now a top Clinton adviser, represented the White House. Among others at the funeral were Senators Trent Lott (R-MS), Jesse Helms (R-NC), John Glenn (D-OH), and Sam Nunn (D-GA).
"He was not only a Christian gentleman, he was a great man, a good man,” said Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), who served 30 years with STENNIS. “He taught a lot of us how to be a senator.”
The often loquacious STENNIS earned a reputation in Washington for finesse that earned him top committee assignments and immense clout on military matters.
In the 1950s and 1960s, he was known for his segregationist views, but he supported extension of the Voting Rights Act in 1983 and won strong support from black voters when he ran his last campaign in 1982.
STENNIS joined the Senate in 1947 and retired in 1988. After retiring, he moved to the Mississippi State University campus to teach before failing health forced him to move to a Madison nursing home.
STENNIS graduated from Mississippi State and the University of Virginia Law School. He served as a district attorney, circuit judge and Mississippi legislator before running for the Senate.
[From the Clarion-Ledger, April 26, 1995)
STENNIS EMBODIED SOMETHING MISSING IN MANY POLITICIANS
(By Danny McKenzie)
My brother has often told me that during his former life, when he presided over a school in Kemper County, it was not at all unusual for him to pick up the telephone in his office and hear a familiar voice on the other end:
“Noooorman,” Senator JOHN C. STENNIS would say. “Everything all right? Is there anything you need that I can help you with? How's everybody gettin' along?"
He always had time “for a chat,” Norman said, no matter that it might take time away from his devotion to national government. The situation back home was of equal, or greater, importance to the United States Senator.
STENNIS was a firm believer in keeping in touch with his constituents, my brother said, though the Senator would never use such a 50-cent word to describe his friends back in east Mississippi.
LONGING FOR HOME
He wanted to know what was going on, especially in Kemper County, Norman told me. And Norman said it was fairly easy to tell that even as influential and downright powerful STENNIS was in our Nation's capital, the Senator definitely longed to be back home.
My brother said he learned early during his tenure in STENNIS' home county that the Senator wanted to know the truth-plain and simple, no sugar-coating.
That yearning for honest information about Kemper County came as no great surprise to Norman because he knew that was the way John C. Stennis lived his life: plain and simple, and uncompromisingly faithful to the truth.
On this, the day STENNIS is to be buried in his precious Kemper County, we as a society need to heed the words spoken about this man, this prototypical Southern gentleman.
Such terms as integrity, honesty, civility, loyalty, morality, dignity. They all are accurate descriptions of STENNIS and they all describe the manner in which he lived and worked.
There are politicians and there are political leaders. During his 41 years in the Senate, STENNIS was among a small group of the latter.
There is a difference, and STENNIS not only knew the difference and understood the difference, he embodied it.
Early in his career he was, as were most Southern political leaders, a staunch segregationist. But STENNIS came to understand that the issue of racism was tearing apart America and became an ardent supporter for equality.
He did not change his ways because it was politically popular—which, of course, it was not—but because it was the right thing to do. Period.
Therein lies the difference between a politician and a political leader.
THE INHERENT GOODNESS
STENNIS was also a believer in the inherent goodness of people, and by treating all people with respect he thereby brought out the best in his fellow man.
Those who knew him best will testify that STENNIS' demeanor was the same in the Senate and among his fellow Senators as it was at his home and in his law office in DeKalb.
Here was a man who was not only loved and admired but respected, truly respected, by all those with whom he dealt. He was fair. He had integrity. He had style.
Yet, today, it seems we have a group of politicians more interested in forcing upon us their own agendas, with no thought or concerns about the divisiveness or downright destruction it foments in our society.
The tragic part of today is not that JOHN STENNIS has died, but that so too, it seems, have his qualities.
What better way to honor the memory of one of the truly great leaders of American government than to return to the age of civility, to the age of common decency?
(From the Meridian Star, April 26, 1995]
STENNIS COMES HOME FOR FINAL TIME
(By John Surratt)
DEKALB PAYS HOMAGE TO FAVORITE SON
DEKALB—Like they did 13 years ago when he won his last election to the U.S. Senate, Kemper County residents turned out to welcome JOHN STENNIS home.
More than 50 people lined the sidewalk leading to the DeKalb Presbyterian Church to welcome the motorcade bringing their favorite son home for the last time.
After the casket bearing the former Senator was in place, they entered the church and paid their final respects to the man who many have called a great statesman and a great American.
Graveside services for STENNIS were to be today at 11 a.m. at Pinecrest Cemetery in DeKalb.
STENNIS was a political contrast: a man who wielded tremendous influence and commanded great respect in Washington; the next door neighbor when he returned to the hills and forests of Kemper County.
"He was probably the greatest Senator the United States has ever known,” Sue Harpole of Scooba said as she waited for the motorcade.
“But he was just 'JOHN' to his neighbors when he was here,” Juanice Evans of DeKalb added.
"He was always a perfect gentleman,” Harpole said. “Even when he lost his leg, he still stood up for a lady. Harpole and Evans said county residents were saddened by STENNIS' death, but were also relieved because STENNIS no longer had to suffer physical pain.
“For years, I thought 'Senator was his first name,” Kemper County Supervisor Roy O. VanDevender said. “I had always seen him when I was little. Whenever he came around, people would say, “There's Senator STENNIS.' When I was older, I realized what that title meant."
When he went to college at Mississippi State University, VanDevender realized how important STENNIS was.
"People would say, You're from DeKalb?! That's where Senator STENNIS is from!' Around here, he was just a friend. He was a part of the community.”
Commercial Bank President Jeff McCoy was another DeKalb resident who never knew about STENNIS until he was older. “I'd deliver groceries to his house,” he said. "He was Miss Coy's husband who worked in Washington.”
McCoy said STENNIS, who was a bank director, helped him get his first bank stock. When STENNIS was in town, McCoy said, they would meet and discuss how the economy and federal banking laws were affecting the local bank.
VanDevender said one of the most important things STENNIS did for the county was to include it under the umbrella of the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal agency that provides economic and other assistance to State and local governments.
STENNIS once told him how he got the county in ARC. “I was driving him to Meridian one day, and as we drove through the hills he asked me: 'Do you know what these hills are?' I told him I had no idea. 'These are the foothills of the Appalachians,' he said and he laughed.”
“Everything you hear about him is true," said Sterling Davis, a former county justice of the peace and State representative from Kemper.
“Before the cock crowed three times, JOHN STENNIS was up and working,” he said. “He was outstanding. He ranks up there with (Henry) Clay, (Daniel) Webster, (John C.) Calhoun. He was probably a better Senator then (Lyndon) Johnson or (John) Kennedy.
“He was a very complicated man; he had several things going on in his head. He could talk with you and he would come out with information about something that was going on somewhere. It was just astounding how up-todate he was.”
Davis said he went to STENNIS on several occasions for political advice.
"I went to him in 1956 to ask him who to vote for Speaker of the (State) House between William Winter and Walter Sellers,” he said. “He told me,
Voter for Winter; you'll never regret it. He also said good things about Mr. Sellers."
STENNIS, a former circuit judge, also gave Davis judicial advice. He said, "When you're a judge you have to be careful, because what might seem like nothing to you is very important to the people involved. Do your homework.”
Davis and VanDevender said STENNIS was always current on events back home. VanDevender remembered when STENNIS called him after he lost a 1983 race for justice court judge.
“I was surprised that he even followed it,” he said. “He told me, What I really wanted to find out was how you behaved. That's what I wanted to
VanDevender had congratulated his opponent to local residents, he said.
"He would send me a letter on my anniversary every year,” Evans said. “Not a form letter, a handwritten letter."
“If your child did something well in school, they received a letter," Harpole said. “That was something very special.”
When STENNIS was home, he was cared for by several people, including Jack Webb and Eli Burton and his wife Maggie.
Burton said his wife was the STENNIS cook and housekeeper for 50 years. He tended the Senator's yard for 20.
"If he told you anything, it was right,” Burton said. "He was a fine fellow.” "He was as good a person as anyone I've known in my life,” Webb said.
Webb said STENNIS would talk with him at times as he did yard work. “He always made sure I had plenty of water to drink,” he said.
"He was greatly loved here," Evans said. “He will be greatly missed.”
(From the Associated Press, April 26, 1995)
STENNIS BURIED IN SIMPLE CEREMONY
(By Ron Harrist)
JOHN C. STENNIS, a country lawyer who rose to one of the most powerful positions in the U.S. Senate, was buried Wednesday on a knoll in his hometown.
About 300 people, including congressional leaders and an emissary for President Clinton, attended a gravesite service. STENNIS was buried on a hill crest, next to his wife, at Pinecrest Cemetery.
A trumpeter played “America the Beautiful” as mourners watched the dark wood coffin, draped with red roses.
STENNIS died Sunday of pneumonia at 93.
The Mississippi Democrat once headed the Senate Armed Services and Appropriation committees and, as Senate President Pro Tempore, was third in line to the Presidency.
"He was a Christian gentleman, a great man, a good man,” said Senator Robert Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who served 30 years in the Senate with STENNIS.
The Reverend Jerry McBride of St. James Episcopal Church in Jackson said in his eulogy, “We live in a cynical, violent and self-centered world, but we know we can step out of this madness by following the footsteps and example of JOHN STENNIS.”
Clinton adviser Mack McLarty represented the White House.
STENNIS, elected to the Senate in 1947, was known in the 1950s and 1960s for segregationist rhetoric, but supported extension of the Voting Rights Act in 1983 and won black voters' support when he ran his last campaign in 1982.
His reputation for finesse earned him top committee assignments in Washington and the confidence of eight Presidents.
He retired in 1988, slowed by medical problems. He kept close ties to the people of DeKalb.
"He set some standards for this state, some standards for public service that will always stand,” said former Governor William Winter.
[From the New Albany Gazette, April 26, 1995)
CHARACTER JUDGED BY STENNIS' MEASURE
(By Sid Salter)
Dignity. Integrity. Courage.
For all who knew him, those words embody the life and work of JOHN CORNELIUS STENNIS—son of Kemper County, MS, and citizen of the world. In this century, it is his life-public and private that established the benchmark by which the careers of all other political figures are measured in this State. And on Capitol Hill, it was his unyielding devotion to principle, character and humility that became the measure of those who served with him there in the U.S. Senate and that of those younger politicians who followed him here in Mississippi.
He made a simple promise as a young politician: “I want to plow a straight furrow to the end of my row.” It was a promise that a potential constituent of even the most humble means in rural Mississippi could embrace and understand. After winning election to the Senate in 1947, he kept a small sign on his desk that spoke volumes to his personal commitment to the people who sent him there: “Mississippi Comes First.”
When death came to STENNIS at the age of 93 on Sunday at a Jackson hospital, the promise of his youth had been kept and the commitment of his prime had been fulfilled—and a 62-year career in public service as a district attorney, State representative, circuit judge and U.S. Senator remained unblemished by scandal, untainted by personal gain and unquestioned as a true statesman.
History will record that few—if any–Mississippi public servants have ever done more to tangibly change the face of this State than did JOHN STENNIS. This State's largest single employer-Ingall's Shipyard in Pascagoula—was a product of sheer will and determination by the Senator.
Yet STENNIS remained in many ways an enigma to his colleagues in Washington.
For all the power he amassed, for all the clout he wielded and for all the confidence placed in him by occupants of the White House from Truman to Reagan, JOHN STENNIS remained at the core a simple, humble country lawyer from DeKalb, MS.
He and Miss Coy maintained their modest white frame home on Highway 39. When he would return home to Mississippi and encounter someone he didn't recognize, he would introduce himself: “My name is JOHN STENNIS.”
JOHN STENNIS never owned a credit card. He operated out of a checkbook and his hip pocket. Former aides like to tell of an incident one Sunday morning in Washington when he took a large group of his staffers to church with him. It seems the Senator was miffed when the collection plate passed down the row and the staffers didn't put anything in the plate.