Former U.S. representative Tom Bevill, a retired Alabama Democrat whose proficiency for securing federal funds for public works projects earned him the unofficial title "King of Pork," died March 28 at his home in Jasper, Ala.
Rep. Bevill, who had been in declining health since undergoing triple coronary bypass surgery last summer, celebrated his 84th birthday Easter Sunday.
Tom Bevill (D-Ala.) was known as the U.S. House's "King of Pork."
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A former school bus driver, lawyer and World War II veteran who participated in the D-Day invasion, Rep. Bevill served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1967 until his retirement in 1997, making him Alabama's longest-serving congressman. He represented what is now the 4th Congressional District, which had been an economically struggling, rural area nestled between Birmingham and Huntsville.
During his years on Capitol Hill, he sat on the powerful House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and was its chairman from 1977 to 1985. He earned a reputation as a low-key, old-school politician who often worked behind the scenes to reach bipartisan consensus on appropriations bills for dams, buildings and highways. Sometimes he faced opposition from the executive branch seeking budget cuts.
He clashed with the Carter and Reagan administrations over support for water resource projects but usually came out on top. In the early 1980s, he won funding for the completion of the massive Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway barge canal in Alabama and Mississippi, which took 12 years and $2 billion to build.
In 1993, he suffered a rare defeat when Congress voted to halt funding of the Superconducting Super Collider project, which he had supported for years. Still, many projects bear his name in Alabama, a testament to his ability to steer federal dollars to his home district. They include the Tom Bevill Chair of Law at the University of Alabama; the Tom Bevill Center for Advanced Manufacturing Technology; and the Tom Bevill Energy, Mineral and Material Science Research Building in Tuscaloosa at the University of Alabama.
A popular figure in Alabama, he won reelections easily, sometimes with 80 percent of the vote. In his campaigns, he came across as a humble, soft-spoken, pleasant man.
"Everyone had the utmost respect for him, Democrat or Republican," said Rep. Robert Aderholt, a Republican who now serves the 4th District. "He was a real gentleman, a legend all over the state but particularly in north Alabama."
Rep. Bevill was born in Townley, a small mining community in Walker County, Ala. He graduated from the University of Alabama before joining the Army during World War II and serving in Europe. After the war, he returned to the University of Alabama, where he received a law degree in 1948.
He practiced law and served in the Alabama legislature for six years before he was elected to Congress in 1966. Early on, he sought ways to secure government spending for his constituents to help stimulate economic development.
His wife of 58 years, Lou Betts Bevill, died in 2001.
He is survived by three children; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.