Former Congressman Sonny Callahan has died at the age of 88, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey announced Friday.
“It is with genuine sadness that I share the passing of longtime Congressman H.L. ‘Sonny’ Callahan of Mobile,” Ivey said in a statement. “Congressman Callahan passed away peacefully in his sleep last night. Without question, Sonny’s service to Alabama and to America was unrivaled. He was one of South Alabama’s most beloved public servants, and his legacy of helping others stands out as just one of his many wonderful qualities.”
“Our state and nation have lost a giant of a man. My thoughts and prayers are extended to Sonny’s family, friends and longtime staffers,” Ivey said. “As such, I am directing the flags at the Alabama Capitol Complex and the flags in AL-1 immediately be lowered until the day of his interment.”
Callahan represented Alabama’s 1st Congressional District from 1985 to 2003. He served Alabama during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Callahan was born in 1932 in Mobile. He enrolled in classes at the University of Alabama, Mobile campus but left college before graduation to serve in the United States Navy from 1952 to 1954 during the Korean War.
After his Navy service, Callahan returned to Mobile, where he started work in the trucking and warehousing businesses.
Callahan served in the Alabama House of Representatives from 1970 to 1978. From 1978 to 1982, he served in the Alabama Senate. In 1982 he lost a Democratic primary race for lieutenant governor.
When 10-term Republican Congressman Jack Edwards decided not to run for re-election in 1984, Callahan switched to the Republican Party and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives largely on his strength in Baldwin County.
Callahan served as chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs in 1994 when Republicans took control of the House for the first time in decades. Callahan became the chairman of the Energy and Water Development subcommittee in 2001.
Callahan retired from the House in 2003. His closest congressional aide, Jo Bonner, won the election to succeed Callahan, being endorsed by both Callahan and Edwards. Bonner now serves as Ivey’s chief of staff.
Callahan founded Sonny Callahan and Associates, a lobbying firm that he headed. He served as campaign chairman for businessman Tim James’ unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for governor of Alabama in 2010. Callahan also joined Dawson & Associates in Washington D.C. as an adviser on federal budget and permitting matters.