By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Bill Allain was remembered Friday as a man who was not enamored with the trappings of the powerful offices he held, but instead was consumed with doing what he thought was right for the average Mississippian.
He was described as a man who would answer the phone after hours at the Governor’s Mansion and send the chef home and fix a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a friend.
“He had unmitigated passion for making sure that the working men and women of Mississippi were represented in this great building,” Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley of Nettleton said during a memorial service for the former governor and attorney general at the state Capitol on Friday afternoon.
“He made it his business to speak for those who couldn’t give a campaign contribution or hire a lobbyist,” Presley continued. “He stood for the Mississippians who would feel awkward and out of place at some cocktail party or whose names will never appear in the rolodex of a political or corporate bigwig.”
The service, held at the Capitol where his body lay in repose, was attended by about 200, including current elected officials, former governors and other elected officials, family members and others. His funeral service will be today at St. Mary Basilica in his hometown of Natchez.
Allain, who died Monday in Jackson at age 85, was elected governor in 1984 and served one term. Before then he served one term as attorney general.
Current Gov. Phil Bryant, who spoke at the service along with Presley and U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate, said while Allain served in elected office for a relatively brief period he had landmark accomplishments. His historic lawsuit blocked legislators from serving on executive boards even though, Bryant said, he was sure Allain knew that his efforts would upset powerful House and Senate members who controlled his budget.
“He was a reformer,” Bryant said, adding “Bill Allain stood for what he believed in” regardless of the consequences.
Plus, he said Allain was the first governor eligible to serve a second term because of a constitutional change that occurred during his term, but he opted to step down. Bryant said it is unusual to see a politician give up such power.
Wingate said after returning from the military in the 1970s he because the first black attorney to work in the state attorney general’s office where he met Allain, who had served as the head of federal litigation in that office. Wingate said he was warned that Allain was among a small group that might not be accepting of him joining the attorney general’s office.
But Wingate said, “He became a great and wonderful friend. We would meet at the attorney general’s office on Saturday morning to discuss what we saw in Mississippi and what the future held.”
During those Saturdays, they discussed the lack of black judges in the state. When Allain became governor, he appointed the first African-American to the state Supreme Court – Reuben Anderson – and made many other appointments of black Mississippians.
Wingate took on directly Allain’s controversial campaign for governor in 1983 where he was accused of soliciting male prostitutes, charges later discredited.
Wingate said he was “shocked” by the accusations, because as a friend, he knew of Allain’s various romantic adventures.
Presley said he met Allain during the unsuccessful gubernatorial bid of former Supreme Court Justice James Roberts, who served as commissioner of Public Safety for Allain. He said Allain became a friend and mentor.
“Today as we say goodbye to this giant of a man, we know that so much more could be added,” Presley said. “Bill Allain, fighting attorney general. Bill Allain, caring and compassionate governor. Bill Allain, trailblazer for inclusion of minorities and women in state government. Bill Allain, brilliant constitutional lawyer. Bill Allain, follower of Jesus Christ. Bill Allain, a governor who spent Thanksgiving and Christmas serving the poor without a photo op or press conference.”