IN MEMORY OF SENATOR JOHN C STENNIS


Thomas "Tom" A. DaschleU.S. Senator
[D] South Dakota, United States

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Mr. DASCHLE. Mr. President, I would like to take a few minutes to discuss the life and career of Senator John C. Stennis, who passed away earlier this week.

Senator Stennis served in this Chamber for 41 years. His work here included serving as chairman of the Senate Armed Services and the Senate Appropriations Committees and as President pro tempore of this body.

Among his legislative achievements was his ability to bend and flow with the times. Once a staunch segregationist, Senator Stennis cast his vote for the Voting Rights Act of 1982.

One area in which he never changed, however, was in upholding the safety and security of this great country. Senator Stennis warned against overextending our military capacity. He also warned against wasteful defense spending. But he never wavered in his support of the country's national defense and ensuring that it maintained the military capacity to guarantee our freedoms and our liberties.

During his four decades in the U.S. Senate, Senator Stennis was always an abiding example of integrity and fortitude. His respect for the institution of the Senate and the law of the United States made him an early opponent of the excesses and abuses of Senator Joe McCarthy. As a result, he and Senator Sam Ervin were named as the two Democratic members on the Watkins committee that investigated the recklessness of Senator McCarthy and led to his censorship.

In July 1965, the Senate created the Select Committee on Standards and Conduct, the forerunner of our current Select Committee on Ethics. This was a controversial creation, and everyone knew that whoever chaired it would be in a difficult position. The Senate had traditionally relied upon the voters of a State to discipline a Senator for improper behavior, and institutional discipline is a painful problem in an institution that depends on the collegiality of its Members. The only logical choice for this important and difficult leadership position was Senator Stennis. The Mississippi Senator became so successful and so respected in this position that the committee quickly became known as the `Stennis Committee.' Mr. President, the career of Senator John C. Stennis was marked, not only with legislative triumphs, but with numerous personal triumphs over personal adversity.

In 1973, he was shot by robbers in front of his house and left for dead.

In 1983, his beloved wife of 52 years, Coy Hines Stennis passed away.

In 1984, a battle with cancer resulted in the loss of one of his legs and confined him to a wheelchair. While in the hospital recuperating from the surgery, he was visited by the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. President Reagan later said that he had dreaded going to the hospital that day, for he feared the impact such a life-altering operation would have on a fiercely independent man like Senator Stennis. But the President explained, `when I left, it was I who had been strengthened.' He had been strengthened by the Senator's confidence, his faith, and his optimism.

Those qualities defined Senator Stennis' outlook on life. On his Senate desk he kept a plaque that simply read: `Look Ahead.' `That's my philosophy,' he explained. Don't waste time lamenting the past. `You have got to look ahead. I realize that life's not altogether what you make it. But that's part of it, what you make it yourself.' Senator Stennis made for himself a wonderful life, and the Senate and the country can be grateful for it.

When he retired from the Senate in January 1989, Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd called it `the end of an era.' And indeed it was.

Perhaps a greater compliment came from a Republican Member of Congress from Mississippi, who said, `We'll miss him. Even if he's a Democrat, he's a great man.' As the Senate Democratic leader, I say that is a great statement, even from a Republican.

In 1988, Congress established the John C. Stennis Center for Public Service Training at Mississippi State University. The center covers a range of historical projects, including an excellent oral history program. When a congressional historian approached him about an oral history of his own life and career, Senator Stennis initially opposed the idea, saying it would be too self-aggrandizing. The historian proceeded to explain that it was not only an honor, it was his duty to record for posterity his personal account of the historic events and decisions in which he had been involved.

`Well, sir,' responded Senator Stennis, `If you say its my duty, then I must do it, because I've always done my duty.' Indeed he did.

It was not only his legislative accomplishments--and they were many--for which we so loved and remember him, it was also his commitment to God and country.

No person who has ever served in the U.S. Senate was ever quicker to tell you what was wrong with this country. But no person was ever quicker to tell you what was right about it, either.

Mr. President, Linda and I extend our most heartfelt condolences to the family of John C. Stennis: we share their grief and their loss. But we also thank them for sharing him with us, and I thank the people of Mississippi for selecting him to serve in the Senate for seven terms.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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