The shutdown, the debt ceiling and memories of Sonny Montgomery

Editor’s Note: The following article was written by Sid Salter and originally published on his blog on

Sid Salter--studio headshotAs the government shutdown and the subsequent rancor and gridlock reached new depths, I couldn’t help but think about the late U.S. Rep. Gillespie V. “Sonny” Montgomery.

Montgomery was a lifelong Democrat — a “boll weevil” Democrat, some called him — but a Democrat. But during his 30 years of congressional service, Montgomery was effective under Democratic or GOP leadership in the White House and in the Capitol.

I pass Sonny’s statue almost daily on the Mississippi State University campus. Through interaction with the Montgomery Foundation, I’ve had occasion to spend a significant amount of time going through his papers in the Mississippi Congressional and Political Research.

It was my pleasure to know Congressman Montgomery on a personal level. He was a man of great conviction who was guided by his principles and his fundamental love of God, his family and his country. But those principles did not lead him to doctrinaire political histrionics or lead him to conclude that the solution to the problems that vexed the U.S. government was to throw a wrench in the works of government.

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Memories: He’s My Page

Richard-H-DentMy father, Bob Bailey, was a close friend of Sonny’s and through that relationship, I had the chance to meet Sonny many times while growing up in Yazoo City.  I have fond memories of Sonny, Charlie Shamburger and my dad telling stories about the days at Mississippi State and reminiscing of their past.  My sister, Mollie Dent, had the opportunity to serve Sonny as his Congressional Page on two different occasions.

My favorite memory of Sonny has to be when I served in Washington as his Congressional Page in the Spring of 1981.  It occurred February 18, 1981 when newly elected President Ronald Reagan gave his first Address before a Joint Session of the Congress on the Program for Economic Recovery.  I remember there was a great deal of excitement and optimism around President Reagan and his presidency at that time.

I rented a room at Miss George Smith’s Boarding House with about 20 other Pages.  I got word early that day that I would have the chance to go with Sonny to the President’s Address that evening.  I didn’t think much of it as my day was filled with running committee papers, letters and other documents from Sonny’s office to various members of Congress in the different House Office buildings.  It wasn’t until I went back to the boarding house to change and get cleaned up that I realized how unique the invite from Sonny was.  No other Page from the boarding house had been invited by their Congressman or Senator.

I met Sonny at the Capitol where we arrived early for security.  As I walked in with Sonny, I remember being questioned on why I was there and to this day, I can see Sonny turning around and very politely telling the Door Keeper, “he’s my Page and is coming with me”.  There were no questions after that.

As members of the House, Senate and other dignitaries took their seats, I vividly recall looking around on the floor of the House Chamber at the Capitol and easily being able to count on both hands with a finger or two to spare, the other Pages along with me on the floor.  Looking back on it, I’m not sure why he chose me to go with him, but I’m very thankful he did as I had the chance to shake President Reagan’s hand along with the hand of Sonny’s close personal friend, Vice President George H. W. Bush.

I recall walking the halls with Sonny on different occasions and remember the respect everyone showed him and the respect he showed others.  I’m pretty sure that is one of the many reasons he was appointed Chairman of the US House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs from 1981 – 1994 along with his tireless dedication and service to the military he loved.  Mississippi and the 3rd District are better because of Sonny and I’m honored to have worked for him.  I also wear with pride a cashmere sweater that has the Vice Presidents name and seal, given to Sonny by 41 and in turn given to my dad by Sonny.  Thanks for letting me share these memories and this photo.

Richard H Dent

Memories: Funeral Home Suit

Not many people can say they’ve had the job they always wanted, but I did at an early age and that was serving as Sonny’s Military Caseworker and Military Legislative Assistant.

I remember the day I got the phone call from Sonny to come to Washington. After I hung up the phone, I quickly realized I had no business suits to wear since prior to this time the only suit of clothes I had to wear was the Air Force uniform. To assist me in my dilemma, my mother spoke to my Uncle Hansel Willis and Uncle Larry “Duke” Willis, both who were employed with Webb Funeral Home of Newton, in the hope they had some old suits I could wear. As you are probably aware, funeral homes keep their employees clothed in the finest quality suits for that type of business. As luck would have it they had some I could wear and on my first day on the job, I reported to Sonny in one of my finest Brooks Brothers suit and tie.

As part of the game in Washington, Sonny and his buddies, especially his old pal LTG John Conaway, Chief of the National Guard Bureau had a habit of when meeting their friends, to inspect your ties and suit coats to check the manufacturer. While standing in front of the office one day waiting to go to a hearing, the curiosity had finally gotten the best of Sonny, and he looked at my coat and saw the Brooks Brothers tag and immediately asked, “How much am I paying you”!

From that day forward, he always made jokes about me getting my clothes from the funeral home!

Shared by Bo Maske, former Military Legislative Assistant, G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery

Memories: Bush (41) & Sonny Compare Scars!

Sonny with  BushesA few months following the 92 election, former President Bush (41) came by the office with his son Marvin, to visit with Sonny.

Of course all of us staffers were glad to see the President and meet Marvin, but prior to leaving, Sonny told 41, while we were all standing in front of the receptionist desk, “George you haven’t seen my new knee!”

So Sonny began rolling up his britches leg and then President Bush said “Well, I’m going to pull an LBJ,” and he started pulling up his shirt to show Sonny his appendix scar!

The staff got a big kick out of that as I am sure Marvin did.

Shared by Bo Maske, former Military Legislative Assistant, G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery