Former Sen. John Cornelius Stennis was remembered as a man who wielded great power over military policy and Senate ethics but opposed virtually all civil rights legislation.
Stennis died Sunday at St. Dominic Hospital, where he had been taken several days ago for pneumonia, said his son, John Hampton Stennis. He was 93.During 41 years in the Senate, the Mississippi Democrat earned a reputation for fairness and finesse that landed him delicate committee assignments and close associations with eight U.S. presidents.
"He was a great senator in every way. He was effective, respected and deeply appreciated by the people in Mississippi," said U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
As chairman of both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the defense subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee in the 1970s, Stennis wielded more clout over military matters than perhaps any civilian except the president. He was a strong supporter of the Vietnam War.
"If there is one thing I'm unyielding and unbending on, it is that we must have the very best weapons," Stennis once said.
When he retired in 1988, Stennis was the Senate's oldest member, and had served longer than all but one other - Carl Hayden of Arizona, who retired in 1969 after 42 years in the Senate.
Nicknamed the "conscience of the Senate" for his work on the Senate's code of ethics and his religious convictions, Stennis overcame personal tragedy to continue public service.
He was wounded by robbers and left bleeding on the sidewalk near his northwest Washington home in 1973. Coy Hines Stennis, his wife of 52 years, died in 1983. And in 1984, he lost his left leg to cancer and had to use a wheelchair.
"Discouraged? I suppose everybody's had his ups and downs. But I've never surrendered," Stennis said in 1984.
Although Stennis never made racial issues his primary focus in the Senate, he did support segregation and was a staunch member of the South wing of his party.
He condemned the Supreme Court's 1954 school desegregation decision and voted against virtually all civil-rights legislation. But in 1983, he voted for an extension of the Voting Rights Act.
"I didn't want to go back to the days of misunderstanding," he told The Associated Press later. "I didn't want to turn around and go back. I always rejoiced to see blacks or anyone else have better opportunities."
After becoming Armed Services chairman in 1969, Stennis firmly supported President Nixon's requests to extend the Vietnam War.
In the war's waning days, he co-sponsored the War Powers Act of 1973, which sets limits on a president's power to commit American forces to combat without congressional consent.
Stennis was born Aug. 3, 1901, in DeKalb, and graduated from Mississippi State University in 1923 before attending the University of Virginia Law School.
He began his public service in 1928 in the Mississippi Legislature, then served as a district attorney and circuit judge before joining the U.S. Senate.
Stennis' body will lie in state Tuesday at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson and later at the DeKalb Presbyterian Church. Graveside services will be Wednesday at Pinecrest Cemetery in DeKalb, his hometown.