JACKSON — John Hampton Stennis, a lawyer and former state legislator who was the only son of the late U.S. Sen. John C. Stennis, died yesterday. He was 78.
Kim Perrett, a spokeswoman for the Jones Walker law firm, confirmed Stennis died Thursday morning. Stennis was a partner in a law firm — Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis — that merged with Jones Walker in 2011.
Former Gov. William Winter, who practiced law with Stennis in that firm, said he had been in declining health in recent months. He said Stennis died at a Jackson hospital.
“John Hampton Stennis should be remembered as a brilliant lawyer and one of the finest legal minds I have been associated with,” Winter said. After Winter lost his race for governor in 1967, Stennis helped Winter get hired into the law firm, where both served as bond lawyers.
Educated at Princeton University and the University of Virginia law school, Stennis served in the state House of Representatives as a Democrat from 1969 to 1984, rising to chairman of the Judiciary A Committee. Democratic political consultant Jere Nash, who interviewed Stennis twice for a history of modern Mississippi politics, said he was “razor sharp” and forgot little, qualities that served him well in the Legislature.
“He was virtually unassailable at the mike,” Nash said. “He knew too much and had a photographic memory and you just couldn’t trip him up in a debate.”
Stennis ran for Congress in 1978 from the Fourth Congressional District, which covered Hinds County and southwest Mississippi at the time. His father was at the height of his power during his 41-year tenure in the U.S. Senate, where he was the longtime chairman of the Armed Services Committee and the confidant of presidents. Stennis, though, never had the political network that longtime fellow Sen. James Eastland built. John Hampton Stennis finished a distant second to Republican John Hinson in a five-way race.
“He was certainly not the legendary statesman that his father was, but he tried to pick up the baton and run with it,” said longtime Mississippi journalist Bill Minor. Minor said he had lunch with Stennis and Winter about three months ago.
Hinson resigned from Congress in 1981 after he was arrested on felony charges arising from a sexual encounter.
The elder Stennis’ record was clouded by his long opposition to civil rights legislation, but Nash said the younger Stennis turned away from “raw” resistance to civil rights that consumed state politics in the 1950s and 1960s.
“John saw that up close, and to his credit, wanted to do something different,” Nash said.
Stennis was born in the Kemper County seat of DeKalb, his father’s hometown, but mostly lived in Jackson. He rose to be a brigadier general in the Mississippi National Guard.
Winter said Stennis is survived by his son Hamp Stennis, daughter Laurin Stennis and sister Margaret Womble. Employees of the Wright & Ferguson Funeral Home said Thursday that funeral arrangements remained incomplete.