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Gov. Allain never forgot where he was from

File Photo / The Natchez Democrat — Bill Allain speaks to The Natchez Democrat during an interview just days before taking the oath of office as the state’s 59th governor.
File Photo / The Natchez Democrat — Bill Allain speaks to The Natchez Democrat during an interview just days before taking the oath of office as the state’s 59th governor.

Editor’s note: The story below has been edited to correct an error about Mary Allain Peale’s relationship to Gov. Allain.

NATCHEZ — Former Gov. Bill Allain was remembered Monday as a top-rate attorney who never forgot where he was from and who — despite holding more than one elected office — didn’t have the personality of a career politician.

Allain, a Washington native who served as Mississippi’s attorney general from 1980 to 1984 and as governor from 1984 to 1988, died Monday at 85 after a brief illness.

While most Mississippians knew Allain as the 59th governor of the state, Natchez resident Bill Peale simply knew him as “Uncle Bill.”

“That’s what he always was to me — Uncle Bill,” Peale said. “He was a very bright and intelligent fellow, who was always concerned about helping everybody he could.

“We were all shocked he went into politics, because he just wasn’t a politician.”

Peale’s mother, Mary Allain Peale, was Allain’s sister, and the family would regularly celebrate Christmas together in Natchez.

“He would come down to Natchez for the holidays, unless he stayed in Jackson to help feed the homeless,” Peale said. “He spent a lot of his time helping others.”

Peale said he always enjoyed catching up with Allain during his holiday visits and had been looking forward to seeing him this Christmas.

“I saw him last year at Christmas time, and I was getting ready to call him again this year,” Peale said. “It’s a sad thing.”

Allain succeeded former Gov. William Winter in office, during what Winter called a “smooth transition.”

The two attended law school together at the University of Mississippi and also worked together when Allain served as attorney general.

“I thought I had a splendid working relationship with him, and I certainly appreciated his friendship,” Winter said. “I had a very high regard for him.”

Winter said he was saddened Monday to hear the news of Allain’s death, knowing Mississippi had lost one of its great residents.

“I knew he had been ill for some time, but I was very sad to hear of his passing,” Winter said. “Bill Allain was a good man, a good friend and a good governor.”

Attorney Walter Brown, who worked with Allain when he was assistant attorney general and served on the state ethics commission during Allain’s governorship, said Allain was an attorney who devoted his life to the practice of law and a forte for Constitutional law.

But he also used his positions in the state to benefit his hometown.

“From the Natchez-Adams County point of view, he was very involved in the implementation of the legislation that created the authority for the new Natchez bridge (over the Mississippi River), which we had passed the initial legislation for when I was in the legislature,” Brown said.

“Like all governors who do what they can for their hometown, Bill never forgot where he came from. He was very much a Natchezian, and he never left that frame of mind when he became governor.”

Former Sen. Bob Dearing said he had only one disagreement with the late governor during his term, the veto of the 1987 large-scale highway construction program that was funded by adding 3.6 cents a gallon to the fuel tax. Allain’s alternate plan to pay for new, four-laned highways was using bonds rather than ratcheting up costs for drivers.

The legislature later overrode the veto, though Dearing said it wasn’t easy. The override later became a source of good-natured ribbing.

“It is really hard to override a governor’s veto, but we did it and have U.S. 61 and U.S. 84 four-laned because of it,” Dearing said. “I teased him about it.”

Even if they had disagreed about the highway bill, Dearing said Allain was friendly to deal with.

“(Former Natchez Mayor) Tony Byrne and I were in a meeting with him about trying to get tourism to Natchez,” Dearing said. “It was a really good meeting, and Gov. Allain said if we are talking about tourism, we better involve the little old ladies. Tony said ‘don’t worry about that, we will.’”

Dearing said he believes Allain’s decision not to run for re-election as the first governor eligible to do so was ultimately because he wanted to return to private law and leave politics behind.

“He didn’t want to go down in the books or set a precedent for running and winning or losing the election,” Dearing said. “I think he wanted to go back to private life.”