Former State Senator Hugh Gillis of Soperton passed away earlier this afternoon. At the time of his retirement in 2004, Gillis was Georgia’s longest serving member of the Georgia General Assembly. Few details are available at this time other than that the family is planning a visitation for Thursday evening.
Tom Crawford of Capitol Impact says of Gillis in the New Georgia Encyclopedia:
Gillis first served in the House of Representatives from 1941 through 1944, then served eight more years from 1949 to 1956. “When I first came in ’41, I was right out of college,” he said. “Back then the governor ran most everything and if you didn’t agree with the governor’s program, you were on the outside looking in. I found out right quick that was not the thing to do.” He served a two-year senate term for 1957-58, then was reelected to the senate in 1962—winning a legislative seat he would hold for the next forty-two years.
Gillis was a classic rural Democrat whose politics were probably more conservative than most of the Republicans with whom he served. He was elected to the highest office within the senate, president pro tempore, for six years total, ranking him just below the lieutenant governor as presiding officer of that body. He also served at various times as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and, toward the end of his career, as head of the Natural Resources Committee. Even after Republicans won control of the senate, in 2002, for the first time, the leadership allowed Gillis to retain the Natural Resources chairmanship in deference to his long tenure in office.
Gillis is the only lawmaker who voted on both landmark bills to change the state flag—in 1956, when the Confederate battle emblem was added to the design, and in 2001, when the Confederate version of the flag was replaced by the blue version. He voted both times in favor of the Confederate version of the flag.
He worked for the passage of legislation to alleviate the shortage of medical care in rural areas by establishing rural hospitals and starting a dental school at the Medical College of Georgia (later Georgia Health Sciences University) in Augusta. As chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, he was instrumental in shaping legislation that affected the state’s land and water resources.
After a redistricting of the senate in 2004, Gillis decided to retire rather than seek another term in a redrawn district at the age of eighty-five. “I’m going to miss you, but it’s time to go fishing,” Gillis said in his farewell speech to the senate.
Condolences to the family and friends of the late Senator.