December 7, 2013 8:29:40 PM
JACKSON -- Friends and political allies on Friday remembered former Mississippi Gov. Bill Allain as an intelligent man who challenged the power structure and fought for everyday working people who couldn't afford lobbyists.
About 200 people -- including former Govs. William Winter and Ronnie Musgrove and a host of current and former elected officials -- gathered in the Capitol rotunda for a memorial service.
Allain, who died Monday at age 85, was a Democrat who served as attorney general from 1980 to 1984 and governor from 1984 to 1988.
Allain "loved this state without any type of limitation," said U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate, who became friends with Allain in the 1970s. Both men worked for Allain's predecessor as attorney general, though their time there didn't overlap.
As governor and attorney general, Allain brought women and minorities into important jobs in state government at a time Mississippi was still moving away from a strict code of racial segregation, Wingate said.
Allain was a Korean War veteran, and his coffin was draped by an American flag. The coffin was displayed for four hours in the rotunda, one story below the governor's office in the center of the Capitol.
Vice President Joe Biden sent a letter of condolence that was read aloud by Mike Espy, who represented Mississippi in Congress in the late 1980s and early 1990s before serving as U.S. secretary of agriculture. Biden, a Delaware senator before being elected vice president in 2008, said he and Allain became friends when the Mississippian supported his unsuccessful presidential bid in 1988.
A funeral Mass will be at noon Saturday at St. Mary Basilica in Natchez, the city where he grew up and started his legal career. Burial will be in Natchez City Cemetery overlooking the Mississippi River.
Brandon Presley, a Democrat in his second term as northern district public service commissioner, said during the memorial service that he considered Allain a friend and mentor. Presley was elected mayor of the tiny north Mississippi town of Nettleton as a 23-year-old in 1999. He said the former governor often gave him advice, and even telling him that being mayor of a 2,000-person town is more challenging than being governor.
Presley said Allain told him, "'At least they have to dial long distance to get you as governor.'" In fact, Presley said, Allain would often answer the phone himself after 5 p.m. when he was living in the Governor's Mansion, taking calls from constituents who were concerned about a wide range of issues, including illegal moonshine operations.
Current Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, said Allain showed strong character. In 1986, Allain successfully pushed voters to approve a state constitutional amendment that lifted the ban on governors serving back-to-back terms. He chose not to seek re-election in 1987.
"For a man to give up power, political power, is virtually unknown," Bryant said.