Inside the Statehouse

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Steve Flowers

Some Legislative Leaders Retire, Pass Away

OPINION —

Allow me to share the stories of three of my favorite legislative colleagues. Two of these gentlemen are retiring from the Alabama House of Representatives this year, and one passed away in April.

Rep. Victor Gaston of Mobile and Rep. Howard Sanderford of Huntsville are going home. A third legend and true gentleman, Steve McMillan of Baldwin County, passed away during the last session in April.

Gaston is speaker pro tempore of the House. He is retiring after 40 years in the legislature. He decided that, at age 79 and having spent half of his entire life in the legislature, the timing was right to end his career and not run for reelection. Gaston, who was an educator by profession and also has family timber interests, lost the love of his life, Jean, only two years ago. They were married for 46 years and were very close. You can tell he misses her immensely. His two sons, Hank and George, have been helpful to him.

Gaston was first elected to the House in 1982. In that year, he was only one of eight Republicans in the 105-member House. His district is an affluent silk-stocking area of Mobile, and one of the few areas that voted Republican in local races in that era.

He serves as a deacon of the Springhill Baptist Church. Additionally, he is active in Mobile with the Penelope House, Home of Grace for Women and the Mobile Mental Health Center. Besides serving as pro tem in the legislature, he has been active with the American Legislative Exchange Council and is on the State Building Commission.

Gaston and I came to the House as freshmen together in 1982, and we became and remain good friends. I like to give my friends nicknames; I dubbed him, “To the Victor goes the spoils.” He is a formal person and seemed to enjoy the frivolity of the term. Also in our class were Spencer Bachus, Beth Marietta Lyons and Mo Brooks, to name a few.

My friend, Sanderford, came to the Alabama House of Representatives in January 1989. We became fast friends. He succeeded my friend, Steve Hettinger, who became mayor of Huntsville. Sanderford has represented the 20th District, which is comprised of southeast Huntsville. He was elected to this very Republican district seven times and has served a total of 33 years. He was a true-blue business Republican who was perfect for that district. He represented his people well with class and distinction. Sanderford was an accountant by profession and had a successful career with IBM, retired early and was able to serve in the legislature with ample time and without the need for remuneration.

He is a devoted family man. Sanderford and his wife Dot are very close. She accompanied him to Montgomery most of the time during his 33 years in the legislature. They are active members of the First Baptist Church of Huntsville. At 87, Sanderford said he felt like it was time to retire from his second career.

Our friend, McMillan of Baldwin County, passed away at age 80 in April after a tough bout with cancer. McMillan was a great man and great legislator. He was a quiet, yet very friendly gentleman. McMillan served with distinction for 43 years in the House of Representatives. He was a very diligent and well-prepared legislator. He was extremely conservative in a dignified way. He was not flamboyant and would seldom go to the well and speak. Yet, when he did, people listened. He was well respected and knew what he was talking about. He exuded class and epitomized the term “gentleman.” McMillan is survived by his wife Gayle, two sons and six grandchildren.

The House is losing a lot of experience and leadership with the loss of McMillan, Gaston and Sanderford.

Coupled with the decision by Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon to not seek reelection, this will leave a void in the speaker and pro tem posts in the House. In addition, the House is losing veterans Mike Ball (R-Huntsville), Allen Farley (R-Jefferson), L.L. Brown (R-Jacksonville) and Harry Shiver (R-Baldwin).

The state and many of us will miss these folks.

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. Flowers may be reached at www.steveflowers.us

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