By JACK ELLIOTT JR.
JACKSON — At the funeral for former Mississippi Gov. William Waller Sr., the state’s current Supreme Court chief justice, Bill Waller Jr., said his father would be remembered for his “big presence in the legal community, in government and politics.”
The elder Waller was Democrat who served as governor from 1972-76. He died Nov. 30 at 85.
He was more than a dozen former Mississippi political and legal figures who passed away in 2011.
Waller fully embraced the political wrangling of being governor, a job he once compared to “a headless horse” — a reference to the limitations of the executive branch in a state where the constitution gives great power to lawmakers.
“I’d been in office about three months, legislative leaders approached me and said that the way to govern the state of Mississippi is to cut the ribbons and make the speeches, hold the press conferences and we’ll run the government,” Waller said in a 2001 interview with The Associated Press. “I told them I was going to hold the office, I didn’t care whether they liked it or not.”
Waller used his appointive powers to bring black Mississippians into state government. He also led the restoration of the Governor’s Mansion and traveled abroad to promote the state’s products.
Longtime state Sen. Jack Gordon, an Okolona Democrat who spent 12 years as the Senate’s chief budget writer, died May 7 at his home, more than a year after being diagnosed with brain cancer. He was 66. Gordon was a master of the budget process. While other money minders would burden themselves with volumes of material, Gordon stood before the Senate with a manila folder that held all he needed. His ability to pull budget figures out of the air left senators and other observers shaking their heads.
Former state Rep. Tommy Campbell of Yazoo City shepherded redistricting issues through the Legislature during the 1980s. Campbell died Dec. 19 at his home in Florida. He was 79. As chairman of the House Elections Committee, Campbell dealt with issues of single-member, one-person, one-vote redrawing of House districts. It was a thankless job, educating reluctant lawmakers about a system that was about to divide counties and precincts to reach population and racial balances.
Some other deaths in Mississippi political and legal circles:
u Former state Sen. Walter A. “Pud” Graham of New Albany died Dec. 3 at 75. He served in the Senate 1984 to 1996 and was president pro tem during his final four years in the chamber.
u Former state Sen. Robert Crook of Ruleville died Jan. 26 at 81. He served in the Senate 1964 to 1992, chairing the chamber’s Fees and Salaries Committee for 20 years.
u U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter died May 18 at 77. Senter was appointed to the federal bench in 1979 and took senior status in 1998. After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, he presided over hundreds of insurance cases.
u U.S. District Judge Dan M. Russell Jr., who played a critical role in legal fights of the civil rights era in Mississippi, died April 16 at 98. Russell was appointed in 1965. He served as senior judge until he died.
u Dunn Lampton, a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted two civil rights-era cold cases and a complex corruption case involving a wealthy attorney and state judges, died Aug. 15. He was 60. Among Lampton’s best known cases was the 2007 prosecution of James Ford Seale, convicted on charges related to the 1964 deaths of two black men.
u James L. “Buddy” Bynum, former editor of The Meridian Star and a former aide to Barbour and former Sen. Trent Lott, died Sept. 3. He was 59.