Presley’s eulogy: Bill Allain, a great man for Mississippi



Special to the Daily Journal

JACKSON – Former Nettleton mayor Brandon Presley today termed his friend, former Gov. Bill Allain, a brilliant, kind man who often answered the Governor’s Mansion telephone at night.

Now north Mississippi’s Public Service commissioner, Presley praised Allain as a mentor and adviser, who was the first person to encourage Presley to run for mayor in his hometown, which straddles the Lee and Monroe county line.

Allain, 85, died Monday in a Jackson hospital. He was governor from 1984-1988 and earlier served as attorney general.

Presley was the chief eulogist at the 3 p.m. memorial service in the state Capitol.

Allain’s funeral will be in his Natchez hometown on Saturday.

Below is Presley’s eulogy:

• Bill Allain: The People’s Governor •

“Methuselah lived to be 969 years old, as we know from our sacred scriptures. But all our Bible says about him is that ‘he died.’ He lived, he died.

What a sad commentary on that extra long life.

Bill Allain lived 85 years, and there is so very much that we can say about this great man. He packed 969 years of living and doing into his 85.

Truthfully, though, the real value of a person’s life is never what he or she ‘gets’ in years or material things. It is always what he or she gives.

Our dear friend, Gov. Bill Allain, always gave to others and he never quit giving.

Personally, he gave so much to me as a mentor, adviser and friend. I was just a young, inexperienced boy from a small town in the Appalachian corner of our state when I first met this good man during a statewide political campaign in 1999. I was simply shocked that a former governor would even take time to talk to me, much less listen to my thoughts and ideas. His kindness, his deep Christian faith and quick draw on a political or legal issue were evident the very first time I met him.

He was the first person to encourage me to run for mayor of my hometown, and he even wrote an endorsement quote for my very first campaign cards. I was 23 years old, wet behind the ears and green as a gourd when I took office, but he became my constant adviser.

Yep, that’s right, the former governor of our great state would spend countless hours helping me learn to be a good mayor. Well, truthfully, he more or less TOLD me how to be a good mayor. As many of you know, he was never shy about giving me his opinion on just about any subject.

He detested closed-door, back-room meetings in government and made sure I knew from the outset that the people’s business should be done in the bright light of day. I carry those lessons from him with me daily.

He continued through his very last days on this earth being a mentor, adviser and friend to anyone he met.

Bill Allain gave both his time and his mind to us.
He also gave us an enduring political philosophy that I know will survive him for ages. One that I call ‘Allainism.’ You see, he gave us all, elected officials and citizens alike, a great yard stick by which to measure state government.

First in ‘Allainism’ is passion.

Bill Allain, as both attorney general and governor, had raw passion for doing what was right. He had unmitigated passion for making sure that the working men and women of Mississippi were represented in this great building. He made it his business to speak for those who couldn’t give a campaign contribution or hire a lobbyist.

He stood for the Mississippians who would feel awkward and out of place at some cocktail party or whose names will never appear on the Rolodex of a political or corporate bigwig.

There is a great story about when Gov. Allain was attorney general and a major corporate attorney called and asked him to come to lunch at the University Club, in an obvious ploy to lobby Allain. Gov. Allain simply replied, ‘If you want to see me, you can come over to the attorney general’s office.’ He never wanted to be, nor was he ever, a slick political ‘wheeler and dealer.’

Second in ‘Allainism’ is pure guts. Guts to take on the powerful. Guts to walk out of closed door meetings. Guts to stand alone.

It gets glossed over in the media when it’s stated that Gov. Allain ‘strengthened the executive branch.’ What doesn’t get explained is what sheer guts it took to do that.

What isn’t told is that he had to file suit against the most powerful of the powerful within the Legislature, the very body that set his budget.

Many friends told Gov. Allain that his action to remove those legislators from boards and commissions was political suicide because he was fighting the good ole boys. He didn’t back down one bit. He would charge Hell with a squirt gun, as we would say back home in the Hill Country.

His battle to lower unreasonable utility rates saved Mississippians millions and he did it in a way that put the public interest first. His work as both attorney general and governor changed both of those offices forever. His brilliant mind, spine of steel and care for the common man set him apart from many who have served longer or in greater offices in this country.

At the core of ‘Allainism’ is deep faith in the Lord above and love for your fellow man. Bill Allain loved people regardless of their financial status, race, creed or political party. He boldly moved African Americans and women into state government like never before in our state’s history. He deeply believed in equality and that our state only moved forward when all of God’s children were able to participate in their government.

Behind all of these great accomplishments was a human being.

Much can be said of the quick wit of Gov. Allain. He explained his fear of flying by citing that Bible verse: ‘Lo, I will be with you always.’ Gov. Allain would say, ‘The Lord didn’t say anything about up in the air. He said “Lo, I will be with you.”

Along with his quick wit there was a penny pinching side too. Once when his dear friend, Tom Childs, visited him at the Governor’s Mansion, Allain told the chef to go on home – that he would figure out something for them to have for supper. He did all right. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the kitchen of the mansion! Somebody once complained about there not being much food at the mansion when he left office because of his penny pinching ways. He replied, ‘The cupboards may be bare, but the state treasury is full!’

Because he never wanted to lose touch with average Mississippians or ever seem too good to talk to a citizen, he would actually answer the phone at the mansion at night.

One night about 10 o’clock, the phone rang and it was a lady with a complaint about illegal moonshining in a small Pine Belt county. She asked to speak to the governor. Allain told her she was speaking to him and asked what he could do for her. She explained the illegal moonshining to him and he told her she should call the sheriff. The lady said, ‘He won’t do nothing.’

Gov. Allain then suggested she call the county attorney. The lady said, ‘He’s the sheriff’s cousin so that won’t do any good.’ Then he suggested she call the commissioner of public safety, Jim Roberts. He added, ‘Wait until 8 o’clock in the morning though. Don’t call him tonight.’ She immediately replied, ‘Well, of course … I would never think of calling someone that important at this time of night.’

Gov. Allain was known for his brilliant mind, his passion, his guts and his wit.

He remarked once that his sign outside an early law office in Natchez would be all he wanted on his tombstone. The sign directing people to his second-story office simply said: Bill Allain, Lawyer, Upstairs.

Today, as we say good-bye to this giant of a man, we know that so much more could be added.

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.

But one thing is for sure … Gov. Bill Allain is upstairs!

Lord, bless this great man and let him know how much he has meant to all of us.

Thank you for sending him our way.”