H. L. Merideth

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Horace Lavelle "Sonny" Merideth, Jr.
Political party Democrat

Born December 30, 1930
Swiftwater, Washington County, Mississippi
Died September 5, 2017
Gulf Breeze, Florida
Spouse Mary Louise "Totty" Terney Merideth (divorced)

(2) Linda Jeffcoat Merideth

Religion United Methodist

Horace Lavelle Merideth, Jr., known as Sonny Merideth (December 7, 1930 – September 5, 2017), was a lawyer from Greenville, Mississippi, who served as a Democrat in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1960 to 1992. Active in my legislative fields, he worked to bring casino gambling to his state.

Background

Merideth was born at home in Swiftwater in Washington County, Mississippi, to Horace Lavelle "Red" Merideth (1911-1986), a native of Doddsville in Sunflower County, Mississippi, and the former Cassel Elizabeth Merideth, subsequently after the parent's divorced, Cassel Pitman (1915-1994). He was reared in James, Mississippi, at which he worked as a boy in father's country store. He graduated in 1948 from Riverside Consolidated High School in Washington County and in 1952 received his undergraduate degree in accounting from Mississippi State University in Starkville.[1]

He was commissioned a second lieutenant under the ROTC program in the United States Air Force. He served in the Korean War and was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, and the Korean Service Medal. He was stationed at Itazuke Air Force Base near Fukuoka, Japan, when his older son, David, was born in 1955. After his military service, Merideth moved in 1956 with his family to Oxford, Mississippi, to enroll at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He graduated in 1958 and opened a solo law practice in Greenville and later formed a partnership with attorney James Robertshaw.[1]

Political career

At the age of twenty-eight in 1959, Merideth defeated an incumbent legislator in primary race to represent Washington County in the Mississippi House of Representatives. Re-elected seven times, he remained in the House until his retirement in 1992. In 1962, he raised a point of order which brought forth a walkout by a small group of legislators who protested House Speaker Walter Sillers' invitation to United States Army General Edwin Anderson Walker (1909-1993), a staunch segregationist, to speak on the state House floor.[1]

In 1990, lawmakers filed a bill to legalize gambling on boats cruising the Mississippi River. As a subcommittee chairman, Merideth removed a few words from the proposed legislation to allow gambling on docked riverboats. Democratic state Senator Bob Dearing of Natchez, one of the sponsors of the riverboat bill recalled that the wording was altered because a district attorney in Arkansas threatened to arrest people on board the riverboats for illegal gambling once the boats sailed into Arkansas waters. In time dockside gambling developed in the 1990s into a tourist attraction along the river and the Gulf Coast, first in riverboats and later in hotels. Former state Representative Danny Guice, Jr., of Ocean Springs, a Democrat-turned-Republican, recalled the "dire times. We needed some kind of spark to re-ignite the tourism down here, and that's exactly what happened."[2]

Merideth, the chairman of the state House Ways and Means Committee from 1980 to 1988, was in Senator Dearing's recollection "a tough negotiator" when facing off the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He also played a role in passage of the Education Reform Act of 1982 and the 1987 Four-Lane Highway Construction Program. Dearing compared Merideth to the late state Senator Ellis Bodron, a Vicksburg Democrat, who was blind and had a photographic memory regarding the details of legislation. "Sonny could read a bill once and he wouldn't have to refer to it in debate. He could quote you line-by-line what was in it," Dearing said. Guice said that he thought Merideth's talents "were wasted in Jackson. He should have been in Washington, D.C."[2]

Merideth divided his time between his legislative duties in Jackson and his law practice in Greenville. An early riser, Sonny was known to be the first person to arrive each morning at the capitol or the law firm. He even called colleagues at home as early as 5 a.m. to discuss legislative matters. Sonny's second son, Philip, was born in Greenville in 1960. Sonny ended his law practice in 1999 and donated his legislative files and correspondence to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. His first marriage to the former Mary Louise "Totty" Terney of Greenville, ended in divorce, and he wed on his birthday in 2004 the former Linda Jeffcoat of Greenville. The couple retired to Gulf Breeze, Florida, where Merideth died at the age of eighty-six. Survivors include his wife, Linda; sons, David and Philip; and four grandsons.[1]

U.S. District Judge Mike Mills, who from 1894 to 1992 served with Merideth in the House, recalled his friend: "Strikingly memorable eyes. Voice of an angel. Even his faults were bottomed on virtue. Sonny bought his own whiskey and could not be influenced by special interests. He was kind to naïfs; ladies loved him, and governors feared him. Sonny Merideth was the most splendid lawmaker of his century."[1]  

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Horace Lavelle Merideth, Jr.. Findagrave.com. Retrieved on September 11, 2017.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ex-lawmaker who helped usher in Mississippi casinos dies. Laredo (Texas) Morning Times (September 7, 2017). Retrieved on September 11, 2017.