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Ran for Vice President : John J. Sparkman, 85, Veteran Senator, Dies

November 17, 1985|Associated Press

HUNTSVLLE, Ala. — Former U.S. Sen. John J. Sparkman, who served 42 years in Congress and was Adlai Stevenson's running mate on the Democratic party's 1952 presidential ticket, died Saturday. He was 85.

Sparkman died at a nursing home after apparently suffering a heart attack, a family spokesman said.

Sparkman, an attorney, was elected to the House of Representatives in 1936. In 1946, he was elected to the Senate to fill a seat vacated by the death of Sen. John H. Bankhead. Sparkman was also reelected to the House, the first such double victory on record. He resigned from the House to serve in the Senate.

A husky, homespun man who neither smoked nor drank, Sparkman was elected to his first full term in the Senate in 1948 and was reelected to four terms. He was chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs from 1967 through 1974 and later was named chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

He was born Dec. 20, 1899, in Hartselle, in northern Alabama, seventh of 11 children who grew up in a four-room log house on a tenant farm. He studied by the light of a kerosene lamp, began his education in a one-room school and walked four miles each way to high school.

Sparkman borrowed $75 on a cotton crop to enter the University of Alabama, where he later obtained a teaching fellowship.

In 1948, Sparkman had opposed the renomination of President Harry S. Truman because of the President's civil rights program. In advocating laws against lynching, poll taxes and employment discrimination, the President had committed a "colossal blunder," Sparkman said.

In other respects, however, Sparkman supported Truman, and he was appointed to a United Nations delegation in 1950.

In the 1952 presidential election, Stevenson and Sparkman lost to Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon.

As leader of the Senate committee dealing with housing, he was a vigorous supporter of federal housing programs.

Sparkman was in his 70s by the time he took over the Foreign Relations Committee, and there was some grumbling that he was too old for the job.

"I have kind of blinking eyes when I don't wear glasses regularly, and lots of time, sitting there, I will sit there with my eyes closed," he told an interviewer. "But I am not asleep."

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