Montgomery remembered by area residents

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Veterans know they have lost a friend in the death of former Rep. Gillespie V. &8220;Sonny&8221; Montgomery, who died Friday at 85.

Donnie Verruchi of Natchez, state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, remembers well his first meeting with Montgomery in the nation&8217;s capital.

&8220;I got to meet him in Washington, D.C., six or seven years ago,&8221; Verruchi said. &8220;VFW has a grassroots effort to lobby for veterans&8217; entitlements and benefits. I met him at a convention.&8221;

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They found they had something in common, Verruchi said. &8220;We had a real good relationship for several years, even after he retired and became a consultant.&8221;

Montgomery had a way of getting things done. &8220;He did a lot for the veterans,&8221; Verruchi said. &8220;We asked for a state veterans home in Jackson, and when Sonny got behind it, we got the home in Jackson and three more in other towns in the state.&8221;

For Natchez attorney Marion Smith, a former state senator, the loss of Montgomery is a personal one, as they became good friends while serving together in the Mississippi Legislature.

Montgomery served for 10 years in the Legislature before he was elected to Congress in 1966. A Democrat and a native of Meridian, he served there until he retired in 1997.

&8220;He took a remarkable background into public life,&8221; Smith said. &8220;He contributed so much to the state. Men like Sonny are few and far between.&8221;

Montgomery was a man of great integrity, Smith said. &8220;He was a patriot. He was genuinely concerned about the military and extremely knowledgeable about it. He was a champion for the Mississippi National Guard.&8221;

In fact, Montgomery, a veteran of World War II, served in the Guard, including a tour of duty in the Korean War, and retired as a major general in 1980.

&8220;I counted him as one of my better friends,&8221; Smith said. &8220;I had not seen him in a couple of years, but we talked by phone a number of times.&8221;

Natchez attorney Walter Brown, also a former state legislator, went to the state capitol after Montgomery&8217;s departure for Congress but knew him through mutual friends, politics and causes.

&8220;He was the champion of educational television in the Legislature. The legislation passed but was not funded while he was there,&8221; Brown said.

In 1969, Brown co-authored the bill to &8220;get public radio and television off the ground.&8221;

The two met in Washington, D.C., when delegations visited to lobby for local causes. &8220;We always went to Sonny, and he was very helpful. The delegation then was very cohesive.&8221;

Brown, a military veteran, recalled Montgomery&8217;s strong support for maintaining the military installations in Mississippi.

Best of all, however, was Montgomery&8217;s ability to lay aside partisanship. &8220;He was always a Democrat, but he was not terribly partisan. He was able to cross the party lines.&8221;

Montgomery was a great Mississippian and a great American, Brown said.

&8220;He was unpretentious, dignified and a statesman; but he was still a common man who understood the needs of the ordinary people,&8221; Brown said.