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. Sonny was a lobbyist before lobbying was a business. He kept his cards close to his vest and you never knew what he was doing. Sonny 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. Sonny 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 Representative Alvin Holmes, who passed away at 81. Like Sonny, Alvin 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. Alvin 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 Alvin for close to two decades in the legislature. We shared a common interest in Alabama political history. In fact, Alvin 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. Alvin 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.
Ironically, 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, John joined the Dr. Martin Luther King as a soldier in the army for Civil Rights. John 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 Dr. King’s closest allies. John became almost as renowned worldwide as a Civil Rights leader as Dr. King. John moved to Atlanta with Dr. King and was elected to the U.S. Congress from Atlanta and served 33 years with distinction. Even though John 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. John died of pancreatic cancer in July at age 80.
Another Alabama political legend, John Dorrill, passed away in January at age 90. Ironically, John Dorrill and John Lewis were both born and raised in rural Pike County near Troy. John 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. John Dorrill was one of my political mentors and friends.
Another Montgomery political icon, former Republican State Senator 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. Larry 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. Larry was a devoted husband to his wife, Gaynell, and father to his two daughters. Larry was a good man.
Former Alabama Supreme Court Judge Hugh Maddox recently passed away at age 90. Judge Maddox served 31 years on the Alabama Supreme Court before his retirement in 2001.
One of my favorite fellow legislators and friends, Representative Richard Laird of Roanoke, passed away last week from COVID-19. He was 81 and served 36 years in the Alabama House of Representatives. Richard 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.
— Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the Alabama legislature.