The obituary read “William Ephraim Cresswell” and relayed the story of the quiet death of a husband, father and grandfather who died in Springfield, Va., on Jan. 29 at age 87.
Cresswell left a wife, three children, a grandson, a brother and a sister to mourn his passing. Those facts alone suggest a family tableau worthy of respect. But there is so much more.
For Mississippians of a certain age, “Eph” Cresswell was the gatekeeper, the confidante, the defender and the trusted sounding board of one of the most powerful men in Mississippi history. From 1958 to 1989, Cresswell was administrative assistant and chief of staff to U.S. Sen. John Cornelius Stennis – the legendary “conscience of the U.S. Senate.”
Stennis was a confidante of every U.S. president from Truman to Reagan.
Cresswell served Stennis – and the people of Mississippi and this nation – at the height of Stennis’ long and distinguished career. Cresswell was at the time of his retirement the longest-serving administrative assistant in the history of the Senate. They were an interesting pair – Stennis, the most famous alumnus of Mississippi State University and Cresswell, the devoted University of Mississippi law school graduate.
Cresswell would tell fellow staffers that he never heard mention of the Egg Bowl from Sen. Stennis in the years Ole Miss won, but heard a lot about it when State won.
A veteran of the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, Cresswell completed his studies at Ole Miss in 1948 and entered the practice of law in his native Durant. He was elected to the Mississippi House in 1952, and he served there until he was appointed assistant attorney general of Mississippi in 1954.
When then-Attorney General J.P. Coleman was elected governor of Mississippi in 1956, he appointed Cresswell as his executive assistant and chief of staff.
Cresswell joined the senator’s staff in 1958. Rex Buffington, director of the Stennis Center for Public Service at MSU and a former Stennis staffer himself, said, “Eph loved to tell the story about going through the process of moving his young family to Washington to take the job for Sen. Stennis, and then having Sen. Stennis tell him after he arrived that they would ‘try it for a year.’ After a year, Eph told the senator that his family missed Mississippi and had decided to move back, only to have Sen. Stennis tell him that the one year trial was not applicable.”
In 2012, the Stennis Center created an award for a top congressional staff member that bears Cresswell’s name.
Few men have done more to help more Mississippians – and received less recognition and credit for that service – than did Cresswell. Countless economic development, military and state infrastructure projects – plus the rebuilding of the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Camille – were projects that he substantially helped Stennis accomplish down in the trenches.
Stennis and Cresswell shared a common trait in addition to their patriotism – unwavering integrity.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He is chief spokesman for Mississippi StateUniversity.