SID SALTER: Memories of John C. Stennis still inspiring for new politicians

By SID SALTER

One of the reminders of advancing years is the fact that there”s now a generation of young adults who really don”t know who the late John Cornelius Stennis was and why his name continues to invoke such reverence and respect both in Mississippi and in Washington.
For the record, Stennis was a legendary U.S. senator from Mississippi – a lifetime public servant.

Political pedigree
Stennis served in the Mississippi House of Representatives from1928 to 1932; as a district attorney from1932 to 1937; as a Circuit Court judge, from 1937 to 1947; and as a U.S. senator from November 1947 to January 1989. He died April 23, 1995 at the age of 93.
During his career, Stennis serve d as chairman of the Senate Appropriations and Armed Services committees and as President Pro Tempore of the Senate. In 1965, the Senate created the Select Committee on Standards and Conduct, the forerunner of the Senate Ethics Committee. Stennis was the committee”s inaugural chairman.
He was a confidante of every U.S. president from Truman to Reagan. A U.S. navy aircraft carrier bears his name – a testament to his status as the undisputed “father of the modern nuclear U.S. Navy.”
But that”s just his political pedigree.
He also endured tragedy with great courage and dignity. In 1973, Stennis was shot by robbers in front of his Washington home and left for dead. He persevered.
In 1983, his beloved wife of 52 years, Coy Hines Stennis passed away. In 1984, a battle with cancer resulted in the loss of one of his legs and confined him to a wheelchair.
He would retire in January 1989 after 41 years of service in the Senate.

Rise or swell
But it is Stennis” role as a mentor, role model and man of impeccable integrity that brought of group of friends together this week to reflect on the senator”s life and how he might react to life and work on Capitol Hill in 2010.
Among the panelists were former Gov. William Winter; former Clinton administration Secretary of Agriculture and former U.S. Rep. Mike Espy; former Stennis chief of staff William “Eph” Cresswell; former Senate Appropriations and Armed Services committee staff director Frank Sullivan; former Stennis press secretary and Stennis Center for Public Service Leadership executive director Rex Buffington; former Stennis personal secretary Bobbie Harbour and Stennis Institute of Government coordinator and Stennis biographer Phil Hardwick.
The event was organized by the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University. During a two-hour panel discussion, the group speculated on how the senator might handle complex modern political issues like health care reform, terrorism, debts and deficits, federal earmarks, race relations, the growing lack of civility and bipartisanship on Capitol
Hill and fondly remembered their associations with Stennis. To a person, they recalled his advice to new senators: “Some new senators grow and some simply swell. Make sure you continue to grow.”
In the current swill of campaign attack ads and character assassinations, we”d do well as voters to look for Stennis” qualities – dignity, integrity and courage in the delegation we send to Capitol Hill to represent Mississippi in 2011.

Sid Salter is Perspective Editor at the Clarion-Ledger. Contact him at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com.