MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Former U.S. Rep. H.L. “Sonny” Callahan, who represented south Alabama in Congress for 18 years, has died, the state’s governor announced on Friday. He was 88.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said that Callahan died peacefully in his sleep during the night.
Callahan served as a representative to the U.S. Congress from 1985 to 2003, representing the state’s 1st District on the Alabama coast.
“Without question, Sonny’s service to Alabama and to America was unrivaled. He was one of south Alabama’s most beloved public servants, and his legacy of helping others stands out as just one of his many wonderful qualities,” Ivey said in a statement.
“Our state and nation have lost a giant of a man. My thoughts and prayers are extended to Sonny’s family, friends and longtime staffers,” Ivey said.
Callahan, a former trucking executive, was first elected to the U.S. House in 1984 after serving as a state legislator in the Alabama House and Senate.
Callahan was a Democrat in the Alabama Legislature, and ran unsuccessfully as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in 1982. He switched to the Republican Party when he ran for Congress.
He served as chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations. He then became chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development, a key post for water projects in Alabama.
He retired from Congress in 2003.
“Sonny was a good friend, and an absolutely fantastic congressman,” said former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, who served with Callahan in Congress.
“He was just real. There was no pretension,” Riley said.
Rick Heartsill, who served as Callahan’s chief of staff 1988 to 1990, said Callahan had a “unique ability to work with people from all walks of life and political persuasions.”
“As someone who worked with him up close, we saw him walk with giants in Washington and around the world, but he never lost the common touch,” Heartsill said.
Kim Chandler , The Associated Press