Former Sen. Jennings Randolph Dies
By Martin Weil
Jennings Randolph, 96, a West Virginia Democrat who served in the U.S. Senate from 1958 to 1985 and was credited with building roads and writing the constitutional amendment that gave 18-year-olds the vote, died May 8 in St. Louis.
Sen. Randolph, who had heart and other ailments, died at a nursing home where he had lived for about 10 years, according to a son, Jay.
One of the last of the old New Dealers, Sen. Randolph first came to Capitol Hill in 1933 as a U.S. representative and member of the first Congress to serve under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
He was an enthusiastic believer in the power of government to improve people's lives. "Problems are truly wonderful," he once said, "because we have the opportunity to solve them."
In 1978, he noted that West Virginia had received more than $1 billion to help miners with black lung disease.
"I don't begrudge a dime of it," he said. "If we have to have a deficit budget, let it be a people deficit every time."
Aware of the importance of roads as a lifeline in his own state, Sen. Randolph was regarded by many as the father of the nation's Interstate Highway System.
While in Congress, he had also played a key role in District of Columbia affairs.
There were two parts to Sen. Randolph's career on Capitol Hill. His seven terms in the House ended with the Republican landslide of 1946. But he became a senator in 1958 by winning election to fill the last two years of an unexpired term; then he was reelected to four full terms.
Sen. Randolph headed the Senate Public Works Committee, playing an important role in the development of roads, bridges, courthouses and other major federal construction projects throughout the nation.
He was also known as an unabashed advocate for the interests of his native West Virginia.
Long after his days in Washington, he continued to cherish his role in giving 18-year-olds the right to vote in federal elections. He introduced the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21, a total of 11 times before Congress approved it.
"I'm the one who lowered the voting age, you know," he told the Associated Press in a 1994 interview. ""I gave 18-year-olds the vote. . . . I'm proud of that."
Sen. Randolph, who was named Jennings after William Jennings Bryan, the celebrated orator, statesman and political leader of the turn of the century, was born March 8, 1902, in Salem, W.Va. Politics was in his blood; his father and grandfather had been mayors of Salem.
Sen. Randolph graduated from Salem College and worked as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining the faculty of Davis and Elkins College, in Elkins, W.Va., where he subsequently became head of the department of public speaking and journalism. He later taught and headed the business administration school at Southeastern University in Washington.
He won his House seat in 1932 on his second try. After his defeat and before going to the Senate, he was an executive for the old Capital Airlines. He had been a proponent of aviation throughout his legislative career.
His wife died in 1981; he moved to St. Louis while his son, Jay, was living there. Another son, Frank, lives in Washington.
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