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Tom Bevill dead

From Staff, AP Reports

JASPER — Democratic U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer of Huntsville on Monday lamented the death of former U.S. Rep. Tom Bevill, a Jasper Democrat who became known as "The King of Pork" during three decades in Congress.

Bevill died Monday afternoon at his home at age 84. His health had been declining since he underwent heart surgery last summer, said his daughter-in-law, Karen Bevill.

"Congressman Bevill was the dean of the Alabama delegation when I was first elected to Congress," said Cramer. "And he taught me a great deal about representing North Alabama. Bevill was a powerful legislator in Washington, but he always remembered and worked for the people of Alabama. His family is in my thoughts and prayers as they go through this difficult time."

Bevill represented what is now the 4th Congressional District in North Alabama from 1967 to 1997 and got his nickname for his ability to bring special projects into Alabama, including a key role in building of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. He was chairman of the powerful House Energy Development and Water Appropriations Subcommittee for eight years.

"All you've got to do is ride around in North Alabama and see all the names on buildings, and you realize the impact he had on Alabama," said former U.S. Rep. Bill Dickinson, who served many years with Bevill in Congress. He said they were close friends even though Bevill was a Democrat and Dickinson a Republican.

Karen Bevill said her father-in-law was warmly received across North Alabama.

"He loved his district. He loved the people. I hear so many Tom Bevill stories," she said. Bevill's death came a day after he celebrated his 84th birthday on Easter Sunday with his family.

University of Alabama political science professor emeritus Bill Stewart said Bevill made the word "pork" a positive instead of a negative term in political lingo.

"He was so adept at bringing appropriations into Alabama at a time when they were desperately needed in Alabama," Stewart said.

Alabama Democratic Party Chairman Redding Pitt described Bevill as a moderate Democrat.

"Tom Bevill was neither a new Democrat nor an old Democrat," Pitt said. "That means he believed in using government when it was practical to help people. He believed in the Democratic Party's role of helping people within reason."

Bevill worked with seven presidents during his years in Congress, from Lyndon Johnson to Bill Clinton. Before being elected to Congress, he represented Walker County in the Alabama House for eight years.

Cramer, who represents Alabama's 5th Congressional District in North Alabama, said he and Bevill became close friends when Cramer first came to Congress in 1991.

"You don't get any better than Tom Bevill," Cramer said. "He came from an era where members of Congress got to know each other better. He was loved by people on both sides of the aisle. What made him such a great member of Congress was his poise, his personality and his skill as a legislator."

Cramer said Bevill often gave him advice during battles over funding for North Alabama projects, such as funding for work on the space station for NASA being done in Huntsville.

Current 4th District Congressman Robert Aderholt, a Republican from Haleyville, took office when Bevill retired in 1997.

"When I first got elected, the comment was that I had big shoes to fill," Aderholt said. "I was following someone who was first elected when I was 1-year old I don't think anyone could ever fill the shoes of Tom Bevill," Aderholt said.

Bevill was born in the Walker County mining community of Townley. When he was in high school, he drove a school bus and worked in his father's general store.

He was a graduate of The University of Alabama and the university's law school. During World War II, he participated in the D-Day invasion and later retired from the Army Reserve as a lieutenant colonel.

He was married for 58 years to his college sweetheart, Lou Betts, who died in 2001.

Survivors include two daughters, Susan Bevill Livingston and Patty Bevill Warren, both of Birmingham, and a son, Don Bevill, a Jasper attorney who ran an unsuccessful campaign for his father's congressional seat in 1998.

Copyright 2005 THE DECATUR DAILY. All rights reserved.
AP contributed to this report.

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