John Edward Grenier (August 24, 1930 - November 6, 2007) was a Birmingham attorney and a pioneer in the development of the modern Republican Party in the U.S. state of Alabama. Grenier was a former litigator for Lange Simpson Robinson & Somerville, one of the oldest and most distinguished law firms in Birmingham. He was Alabama state Republican party chairman from 1962-1965. He then launched an unsuccessful campaign in 1966 for the United States Senate. He was thereafter active in 1986 in the election of Probate Judge Harold Guy Hunt of Holly Pond near Cullman in northern Alabama as the state's first Republican governor of the 20th century.
Early years, education, military
Grenier (pronounced Gren YEY) was born in New Orleans, the youngest of three children of Charles Desire Grenier, Jr., a banker, and the former Beatrice Schaumburg (1893-1971). He graduated from Jesuit High School and lettered in track, football and baseball. In 1953, Grenier received his undergraduate and law degrees, having completed a five-year program at Catholic-affiliated Tulane University. Then he served as a United States Marine Corps pilot in South Korea after the Korean War, having attained the rank of captain. He flew more than one hundred patrols in Squadron VMF 312, the "Checkerboard Squadron".
After Tulane, Grenier married the former Lynne Youmans (born 1932); they moved to Birmingham, the seat of Jefferson County, Alabama's most populous county. They had one son, John Beaulieu "Beau" Grenier (born 1956), a Birmingham attorney married to Joy Grenier. John and Lynne were divorced in 1983, and Grenier married the former Stella Kontos (born 1950). In addition to his wife and son, Grenier was survived by four grandchildren and a sister, Rosemary Grenier Rivet of San Diego, California.
After his military service, Grenier enrolled at New York University in New York City, where he received an LL.M. degree in taxation. He practiced law briefly on Wall Street before he and Lynne relocated to Birmingham so that he could join the staff of the Southern Natural Gas Company. He subsequently joined the law firm Bradley Arant Rose & White, where he became a partner and practiced corporate and tax law under the tutelage and mentorship of Lee C. Bradley, Jr. He then joined the firm formerly known as Lange, Simpson, Robinson & Somerville and was a partner there for some thirty-five years before his retirement in 2004.
Campaigning for Nixon and Goldwater
In 1960, Grenier arranged a successful rally in Birmingham on behalf of GOP presidential nominee, then Vice President Richard M. Nixon. In the general election, however, Alabama split its electoral votes between Democratic U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy and an unpledged segregationist slate that supported Democratic U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr., of Virginia. In 1961, Grenier was named chairman of the Young Republicans of Alabama and thereafter was promoted to state party chairman.
Employing the Southern Strategy in 1964, Grenier worked to secure the presidential nomination for then Senator Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona, who upset the party's "Eastern Establishment", which had dominated the selection process for decades. Grenier secured the support of 271 of the 279 southern delegates to support Goldwater at the national party conclave held in San Francisco. One of the dissenters was Winthrop Rockefeller, future governor of Arkansas, who was committed to his brother, then Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York. Depicted as "bright, tough-minded, and a superb organizer", Grenier then became the executive director of the Republican National Committee, second to then party chairman Dean Burch, also of Arizona. That appointment ended in 1965, when incoming chairman Ray C. Bliss of Ohio assembled a new team at the RNC.
In Alabama, state chairman Grenier recruited a slate of candidates for the United States House of Representatives to challenge Democrats who in the past had usually been unopposed in the general election. Five of those candidates were elected. Two of the captured seats—in Mobile and Montgomery—have remained in Republican hands since the 1964 election. A third district, based about Birmingham, was Republican held until 1983. Two other districts reverted to the Democrats in the 1966 mid-term elections.
The 1966 campaign
Grenier himself planned to run for governor in 1966, but he instead deferred to U.S. Representative James Douglas Martin of Gadsden, who became the unopposed GOP candidate. Grenier, meanwhile, challenged U.S. Senator John J. Sparkman. He received 313,018 votes (39 percent) to Sparkman's 482,138 (60.1 percent). Another 7,444 votes (0.9 percent) went to Julian Elgin, an independent who had been Sparkman's Republican opponent in 1960. Sparkman was an entrenched incumbent who had also been the running-mate of Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois in 1952. Grenier actually ran ahead of his ticket-mate Martin, who was crushed in the gubernatorial race by Lurleen Burns Wallace (1925-1968), wife of popular outgoing Democratic Governor George C. Wallace, Jr. Martin finished with 262,943 votes (31 percent) ; Mrs. Wallace's 537,505 (63.4 percent), and the remaining 47,655 (5.6 percent) went to independent Dr. Carl Ray Robinson (1925-2005), a Bessemer physician. Martin and Grenier each won only one of the state's sixty-seven counties—Winston in north Alabama, whose descendants were mostly non-slaveholders who had been Republican at the time of the American Civil War. Grenier hence ran eight percentage points ahead of Martin because he received 50,075 more votes than Martin, and 45,503 fewer ballots were cast for senator than for governor. The sole voter group with whom Martin and Grenier prevailed was upper-income whites.
For a time during the first half of 1966, Senator Sparkman had seemed vulnerable. He won the Democratic nomination by an unimpressive margin over weak opponents. Some 224,000 voters who participated in the gubernatorial primary, handily won by Lurleen Wallace, skipped the Senate race. Grenier concluded that such apparent lukewarmness toward Sparkman provided a base from which to mount a challenge. Yet Sparkman benefited from Lurleen Wallace's candidacy, for he could extol the popular portions of his record and still stress that he had opposed U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson on nearly half of Senate roll call votes. Philosophical differences between the Wallaces and Sparkman were hence blurred in the interest of party harmony. Sparkman successfully emphasized the value to Alabamians of his constituent services, his chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee and his key membership on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Grenier tried to tie Sparkman to President Johnson, having called his opponent "the ambassador to Alabama from the court of King Lyndon." He challenged the Democrats over the economy, constitutional interpretation, the Great Society, civil disobedience, and urban unrest. Grenier proposed military victory in the Vietnam War, the restoration of voluntary school prayer, and restrictions on foreign aid programs.
At the Alabama GOP convention, key Martin supporters urged the congressman to leave the gubernatorial race and run instead for the Senate. Under that scenario, Grenier could resume his initial plan to run for governor. Grenier, however, refused to defer twice to Martin, and once amiable relations between the two Republicans chilled. Years later, Republican stalwart Perry O. Hooper, Sr. (born 1925), of Montgomery, the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court from 1995-2001, reflected on the intra party squabble:
"The year 1966 was a disaster. . . . Nobody could imagine a governor's wife running for office and winning. I began to realize it in January, but nobody else seemed to understand. Once we made that mistake, it was all downhill. It was felt that if we were going to build a party, we needed a governor, and Jim Martin was a hot item. He wanted to switch over to the senatorial nomination, but he wouldn't take a leadership position and let it be known. . . . He hoped that the convention would take over, but John Grenier was too well organized to make the switch. Neither Martin nor Grenier has ever gotten over the 1966 races. Martin ran against Grenier to serve on the national committee [RNC] in 1968 and blew him away. Hopefully, a lot of these things are in the past. All we can do is learn from 1966."
Working for Governor Hunt
It was a full twenty years after the 1966 elections before Alabama Republicans won their state's governorship. In 1986, Grenier served as campaign manager for Guy Hunt in Hunt's successful bid for governor. Hunt benefited from a serious split within the Democratic Party that year between Lieutenant Governor Bill Baxley and the more conservative candidate, Attorney General Charles Graddick. Hunt defeated Baxley, just as Grenier had predicted that he would in what was seen outside Alabama as a stunning upset. Grenier then served in the Hunt administration as Chief of Staff and managed Hunt's successful bid for reelection in 1990. Controversies plagued Hunt, however, and he was forced to resign the governorship in 1993, before he could complete his second term.
Death and legacy
Grenier was said to have had a zest for living: avid tennis player, snow skier, and fox hunter. He was self-taught in French, German, Spanish, and modern Greek.
Grenier died after a brief illness of lung cancer in The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Services were held on November 9, 2007, at St. Mary's On-the-Highlands Episcopal Church in Birmingham. Interment was in Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham.
His former law partner Richard P. Carmody recalled Grenier as follows:
"John was an expansive man who sometimes seemed larger than life. He was a witty and incisive thinker and a spellbinding storyteller. John was a historical figure in Alabama and beyond. He feared no battle for his clients, but I imagine that he was greatly feared by his adversaries. His legal talent was rarely, if ever, rivaled. I will always remember how smoothly the State of Alabama ran during the time that John served as Governor Hunt's chief of staff. He definitely has a place on the shortlist of Alabama's greatest lawyers."
Another partner, Laurence McDuff, reflected:
"As a young lawyer joining the firm, every time I saw John Grenier in the office he would always offer kind words of encouragement. The fact that he spoke those words in French just added to their importance. I can still hear him now: Bonjour, monsieur. Comment ça va? I was fortunate to work closely with John over the years, and he never failed to impress me with his remarkable abilities. But aside from his superb skills as a lawyer, I will always remember his generous and caring spirit. Adieu, mon ami."
- Associated Press, "John Grenier dies at 77", November 9, 2007
- Billy Hathorn, "A Dozen Years in the Political Wilderness:The Alabama Republican Party, 1966-1978," Gulf Coast Historical Quarterly (since the defunct Gulf South Historical Review), Spring 1994, pp. 19-43; State of Alabama, Secretary of State, Election Returns, 1966
- Huntsville Times, October 13, November 3, 1966; New York Times, July 30, 1966, p. 10
- Huntsville Times, October 13, 1966; Montgomery Advertiser, October 12, 1966; Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, August 5, 1966, p. 1709.
- Bernard Cosman and Robert J. Huckshorn, eds., Republican Politics: The 1964 Campaign and its Aftermath for the Party (New York, 1968), p. 78; Stephen Hess and David Broder, The Republican Establishment, p. 337; New York Times, May 13, 1966, p. 20; May 19, 1966, p. 33; August 26, 1966, p. 17
- Billy Hathorn, interview with Perry Hooper, Sr., March 5, 1991, quoted in Gulf Coast Historical Review, Spring 1994, pp. 27-28
- Birmingham News, November 8, 2007