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Former Senator, VP Candidate Dead at 86

November 16, 1985 GMT

HUNTSVLLE, Ala. (AP) _ Former Sen. John Sparkman, who served 42 years in Congress and was Adlai Stevenson’s running mate on the Democratic party’s 1952 presidential ticket, died Saturday. He was 85.

Sparkman died at Big Springs Manor Nursing Home after apparently suffering a heart attack, said Tazewell T. Shepard III, Sparkman’s grandson. Sparkman’s wife and daughter also survive.

Funeral arrangements were not announced.

Gov. George C. Wallace described Sparkman as one of Alabama’s ″most distinguished citizens,″ said press secretary Billy Joe Camp.


Sparkman, an attorney, was elected to the House of Representatives in 1936.

In 1946, he was elected to the Senate to fill a seat vacated by the death of Sen. John H. Bankhead. Sparkman was also re-elected to the House, the first such double victory on record. He resigned from the House to serve in the Senate.

A husky, homespun man who neither smoked nor drank, Sparkman was elected to his first full term in the Senate in 1948, and was re-elected to four terms. He was chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs from 1967 through 1974, and later was named chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Born Dec. 20, 1899 in Hartselle, in northern Alabama, seventh of 11 children who grew up in a four-room log house on a tenant farm. He studied by a kerosene lamp, began his education in a one-room school and walked four miles each way every day to high school.

″I remember those days when my childish heart yearned that my daddy might be able to own a piece of land we could call our own,″ he once said. ″Yet I knew how impossible it was. It was a yearning that never came true.″

Sparkman borrowed $75 on a cotton crop to enter the University of Alabama, where he later obtained a teaching fellowship. He married the former Ivo Hall in 1923 and they had a daughter, Julia Ann, in 1924.

In 1948, Sparkman had opposed the renomination of President Harry S. Truman because of the president’s civil rights program. In advocating laws against lynching, poll taxes and employment discrimination, the President had committeed a ″colossal blunder,″ Sparkman said.

In other respects, however, Sparkman supported Truman and was appointed to a United Nations delegation in 1950.

In the 1952 presidential election, Stevenson and Sparkman lost to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. The Democratic ticket had the slight consolation of drawing 27.3 million votes, at the time the most ever polled by the losers.

From 1967 through 1974 he was chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and was a vigorous supporter of federal housing programs.

″Probably Sen. Sparkman will be best remembered for his statesmanship and expertise in the field of housing, particularly rural housing,″ said Sen. Howell Heflin, who succeeded Sparkman. ″Thousands and thousands of families in this nation own their homes because of John Sparkman’s leadership, dedication and commitment.″

Sparkman was in his 70s by the time he took over the Foreign Relations Committee, and there was some grumbling that he was too old for the job.

″I have kind of blinking eyes when I don’t wear glasses regularly, and lots of time, sitting there, I will sit there with my eyes closed,″ he told an interviewer. ″But I am not asleep.″

In a book of essays assembled by the committee in 1978, Sparkman wrote that Americans may have overrated the Soviet Union’s strengths and thus demanded policies toward Moscow which were tougher than necessary.

Sparkman wrote that while the Soviet Union was exceptionally strong in military terms, its economy and society exhibited ″many of the characteristics of a developing country.″

″With a more accurate perception of the Soviet Union Americans may demand of their presidents that they be as willing to ‘sit down’ with the Russians as they have been to ‘stand up’ to them,″ Sparkman wrote.