As is my annual ritual, my yearend column pays tribute to Alabama political legends who have passed away during the year.
Sonny Cauthen passed away in Montgomery at age 70. He was the ultimate inside man in Alabama politics. Cauthen was a lobbyist before lobbying was a business. He kept his cards close to his vest, and you never knew what he was doing.
Cauthen was the ultimate optimist who knew what needed to be achieved and found like-minded allies with whom to work. When he had something to get done, he bulldozed ahead and achieved his mission. He was a yellow dog Democrat who believed in equal treatment and rewarding hard work. He was an avid outdoorsman and hunter and mentored a good many young men in Montgomery.
Another Montgomerian who will never be forgotten was State Rep. Alvin Holmes, who passed away at 81. Like Sonny, Holmes was born and raised and lived his entire life in his hometown of Montgomery. He, too, was a real Democrat and an icon in Alabama politics.
Holmes represented the people of Montgomery for 44 years in the Alabama House of Representatives. He was one of the most dynamic and outspoken legislators in Alabama history, as well as one of the longest-serving members.
I had the opportunity to serve with Holmes for close to two decades in the Legislature. We shared a common interest in Alabama political history. In fact, Holmes taught history at Alabama State University for a long time. He was always mindful of the needs of his district, as well as Black citizens throughout the state. Holmes was one of the first Civil Rights leaders in Montgomery and Alabama. He helped organize the Alabama Democratic Conference and was Joe Reed’s chief lieutenant for years.
We lost another Civil Rights icon this year. John Lewis was born in rural Pike County in the community of Banks. After graduating from college, Lewis joined Dr. Martin Luther King as a soldier in the army for civil rights. Lewis was beaten by Alabama State Troopers near the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the infamous Bloody Sunday Selma to Montgomery march. He became a Civil Rights legend in America.
He was one of King’s closest allies. Lewis became almost as renowned worldwide as King. Lewis moved to Atlanta with King and was elected to Congress from Atlanta and served 33 years with distinction. Even though Lewis was a national celebrity, he would take time out of his busy schedule to drive from Atlanta to rural Pike County to go to church with his mother at her beloved Antioch Baptist Church. Lewis died of pancreatic cancer in July at age 80.
Another Alabama political legend, John Dorrill, passed away in January at age 90. Ironically, Dorrill and Lewis were both born and raised in rural Pike County near Troy. Dorrill went to work for the powerful Alabama Farmers Federation shortly after graduating from Auburn. He worked for the federation for 43 years.
For the last 20 years of his career, he oversaw and was the mastermind of their political plans and operations as executive director of the federation. He retired and lived out his final years on his ancestral home place in Pike County. Dorrill was one of my political mentors and friends.
Another Montgomery political icon, former Republican State Sen. Larry Dixon, passed away only a few weeks ago from COVID-19 complications at age 78. He served over 20 years in the state Legislature. Dixon epitomized the conservative Republican, and his voting record was right in line with his Montgomery constituency.
He was known as “Montgomery’s state senator” but his ultimate legacy may be as a great family man. Dixon was a devoted husband to his wife, Gaynell, and father to his two daughters. He was a good man.
Former Alabama Supreme Court Judge Hugh Maddox recently passed away at age 90. Maddox served 31 years on the Alabama Supreme Court before his retirement in 2001.
One of my favorite fellow legislators and friends, Rep. Richard Laird of Roanoke, passed away last week from COVID-19. He was 81 and served 36 years in the Alabama House of Representatives. Laird was a great man and very conservative legislator.
In addition to Richard Laird, Alvin Holmes, and Larry Dixon, several other veteran Alabama legislators passed away this year including Ron Johnson, Jack Page and James Thomas. We lost some good ones this year, who will definitely be missed as we head into 2021.
Happy New Year.