Stennis, A Senator Since 1947, Overcame Gunshot Wounds And Leg Amputation With AM-Stennis, Bjt
WASHINGTON (AP) _ John Cornelius Stennis, a pillar of the Senate for four decades, overcame gunshot wounds and the amputation of his left leg to remain a defender of presidents and a bulwark of the nation’s military.
Next January he will have been in continuous government harness for 60 years, a career that began with his election to the Mississippi Legislature in 1928.
A senator since winning a special election in 1947, Stennis has cast more than 13,200 roll call votes and has responded to more than 96 percent of the roll calls this year. In his career in Washington, he has served with 402 other senators including many of the giants of the institution’s 20th century history.
Stennis, 86, the Senate’s president pro tem and chairman of its Appropriations Committee, announced Monday he will not seek a seventh consecutive six-year Senate term. The Mississippi Democrat would have been 93 at the end of that term.
Although his memory runs to near the dawn of the century and to his parents telling their parents’ stories of the South defeated in the Civil War, Stennis has always been as interested in the future as in the past.
On his long office table, once used by his mentor, Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia, is a small plaque that reads, ″Look Ahead.″
″That’s part of my philosophy,″ Stennis said in an interview two years ago. ″As a young lawyer I used to have to listen to people lamenting the past. You can’t do that. You have to look ahead. I realize that life’s not altogether what you make it. But that’s a good part of it, what you make yourself.″
Since a 1984 operation to remove a cancerous left leg, Stennis has rolled in his wheel chair to a lift at the Senate’s side door, and then across the chamber to the desk once used by an earlier Mississippi senator, Jefferson Davis, later president of the Confederacy.
The loss of the leg did not slow him down noticeably, nor - after his recovery - did the two gunshots that left him bleeding on the sidewalk near his home after a robbery in the winter of 1973.
Stennis has served with eight presidents and always has believed the chief executive deserved the benefit of the doubt.
″You know I always lean with the president of the United States whomever he is, because I believe that our system of government demands that the chief executive have support here on this floor,″ Stennis told the Senate last year.
He made that statement in a speech in which he made clear he was going to do something he had almost never done: oppose a president’s choice for a federal judgeship, Daniel Manion.
Stennis has yet to announce how he will vote on another controversial nomination, that of Robert H. Bork to be a Supreme Court justice.
Stennis himself is a former judge, serving for a decade on the Mississippi bench.
″I came away from there with the feeling and the belief that I had learned a great deal about life, at least something about the law,″ he said.
Although Stennis never made racial issues his primary focus in the Senate, he did support segregation and was a staunch member of the Southern wing of his party.
He was those who condemned the Supreme Court’s 1954 school desegregation decision. He voted against virtually all civil rights legislation. But in 1983, Stennis voted for an extension of the Voting Rights Act.
″I didn’t want to go back to the days of misunderstanding,″ he said in the interview. ″I didn’t want to turn around and go back. I always rejoiced to see blacks or anyone else have better opportunities.″
Stennis became chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1969 during the Vietnam War and firmly supported President Nixon’s requests for the military.
As the years went by, Stennis became a Senate institution. Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia said Monday that Stennis’ retirement is ″tantamount to the proclamation of the end of an era.″
Many colleagues said Stennis taught them the ways of the Senate.
Earlier this year, Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., said of Stennis that even when the Senate met until 3:30 a.m. and resumed work at 8:30 a.m., ″he is the first one to show up and the last one to leave.″
″He is the one who told me, ’When you come to the Senate, some grow and some swell,″ Simpson said.
Simpson said he hoped to be counted among the former, not the latter.