By Steve Flowers
At the close of each year, my tradition is to acknowledge the passing away of significant political leaders from the political stage in our beloved state.
We lost some icons this year. As I sit in my office writing this yearend column, pictures of two of my favorite friends and legends adorn my walls. The photos of Governor Albert Brewer and Congressman Jim Martin look down at me. Both were Christian gentlemen.
Governor Brewer passed away last January in Birmingham. He was 88. We had visited over lunch only a few months earlier.
Brewer grew up in Decatur, went to public schools and graduated from the University of Alabama and Alabama Law School. He came back home to Morgan County to practice law. He was quickly elected to the House of Representatives in 1954 at the age of 25. Eight years later in 1962, he was elected Speaker of the House. He was only 33 years old, the youngest Speaker in history.
Four years later, he beat two state senators without a runoff to win the Lt. Governor’s office. He had been Lt. Governor for less than two years when in May 1968, Governor Lurleen Wallace succumbed to cancer and he became governor.
Brewer had a low-key business-like style to the governor’s office that was dramatically different from George Wallace.
He was governor for only 33 months, but he left an indelible mark in public policy, primarily in Education and Ethics.
He and Wallace clashed in the 1970 governor’s race, which was one of the classic gubernatorial battles in state history. He led Wallace in the first primary, but Wallace overtly played the race card and pulled out a narrow victory in the runoff.
Many scholars and historians sadly reflect that Brewer briefly was our “New South” governor.
He spent the last three decades of his life teaching law at Samford’s Cumberland Law School. He molded generations of young lawyers in Alabama. My daughter, Ginny, was one of them. He was her mentor and friend up until he passed away.
I first met Governor Brewer when I was a teenager. I became a page for him when he was Speaker and continued as his aide when he became Lt. Governor. We remained friends throughout the years. He was a very special gentleman.
Jim Martin passed away last month. He was 99 years old. He was a lifetime resident of Gadsden. Jim was one of the fathers of the modern Republican Party in the South. He was one of five Republicans swept into Congress in the 1964 Goldwater landslide. In 1987, Martin became Commissioner of the Alabama
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. As commissioner, Martin helped create the Forever Wild Land preservation program. Jim Martin was a special gentleman.
Cullman County has been home to an inordinate number of legendary Alabama political leaders and icons. One of these was Tom Drake. Tom passed away in his beloved Cullman County in February at age 86. He represented the Cullman area for 36 years in the Alabama Legislature. He served as Speaker of the House of Representatives during Wallace’s last term, 1982-1986. That was my first term in the House. I voted for and supported Tom for Speaker. He was one of George Wallace’s closest and most loyal allies. Tom was also one of Bear Bryant’s favorites. He coached for Bryant, was an All American wrestler at Alabama, and later wrestled professionally. He was a lawyer by profession and he came from the old school. If he shook your hand and gave you his word, you could take it to the bank. He was a loyal and trusted friend.
Another legendary Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, Joe McCorquodale, died in April at age 96. Mr. McCorquodale was one of the most powerful and respected men to ever serve in the legislature in Alabama history. He served 24 years in the House from 1958 to 1982. He was Speaker of the House his last eight years, 1974-1982. He was a successful businessman. He was in the timber and insurance business. He lived his entire life in his beloved Clarke County. Clarke County Democrat publisher Jim Cox, a lifetime friend of Mr. McCorquodale, said he went to his office every day up until his death. McCorquodale gave current governor, Kay Ivey, her first job in state government. As Speaker, he made Kay the Reading Clerk in the House.
We lost some icons this year.
Happy New Year, see you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.