Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Sid Salter: Bush's Friendship with Montgomery Served Mississippi Well

George Herbert Walker Bush and Gillespie V. “Sonny” Montgomery were both elected to Congress on Nov. 8, 1966 and both took office on Jan. 3, 1967. Unknown to either of them at the time, it was the beginning of a long and meaningful friendship.

As freshmen in Congress, central Mississippi’s Montgomery, the Democrat, and southeast Texan Bush, the Republican, became fast friends who spent a substantial amount of time in do-or-die, dollar-a-game paddle ball games in the House gymnasium. Paddle ball is a first cousin to racquet ball and Sonny would tell me years later that they played not just for the dollar, but for blood and bragging rights.

Both men were tall and angular, well-mannered and ambitious. The competition demonstrated in their paddle ball matches carried over into everything. Montgomery served in the House for 30 years and never lost a floor vote. Not one.

Bush left the House after two terms, but climbed the long ladder of the executive branch of government. The Bush-Montgomery friendship never wavered. They trusted each other and they made each other laugh. Both had served their country and both valued that bond between old soldiers.

President George W. Bush wrote of his youthful observations from the famed paddle ball matches: “Sonny was dressed in the regalia of his beloved alma mater, Mississippi State University. He was a wily player, who attacked the game with enthusiasm, energy, and an occasional rebel yell predicating one of his famous ‘kill shots.’ Thus began my friendship with Sonny Montgomery . . . he was adored by Mom and Dad as well as all of the Bush children, including me.”

Montgomery, a lifelong bachelor, was not merely a political acquaintance of the Bush clan, he was treated as a member of the family. He spent holidays with the Bushes at the White House, at Camp David, and at the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. At Montgomery’s funeral in Meridian in 2006, an inconsolable Bush said: “One of the great joys of our days in the White House was the Sundays that Sonny would come over. Every president needs a friend to be alone and relax with. For me, that person was, and always will be, Sonny Montgomery.”

Bush gave a speech in Meridian at Peavey Electronics on Dec. 3, 1991 on his economic policies, globalization and trade. Peavey’s thriving sound equipment business was trading with 103 countries and was a perfect backdrop for his policies in Montgomery’s hometown.

Bush was a commencement speaker at Mississippi State University in May, 1989, and later returned to MSU to honor Congressman Sonny Montgomery at halftime of the MSU-Arkansas game in November, 2000.
From their paddle ball competition in the House gym in 1967, who could have known that both men would ultimately receive Presidential Medals of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor – Montgomery received the honor from President Bush 43 in 2005. Bush 41 received the honor from President Barack Obama in 2011.

Perhaps more relevant in terms of assessing the impact of the Bush family’s relationship with Mississippi is the fact that from 1980 until 2008, the Reagan-Bush political tree flourished in Mississippi. Republicans Trent Lott and Thad Cochran succeeded Democrats Jim Eastland and John Stennis in the U.S. Senate.

Kirk Fordice became the first GOP Mississippi governor since Reconstruction. Haley Barbour would lead the GOP to dominate state government in the executive and legislative branches – and usher in the current generation of GOP leaders including Phil Bryant, Tate Reeves, and Philip Gunn.

The kid who once watched the late 1960s paddle ball games, President George W. Bush visited Mississippi more than any other president in history – 19 times – and 14 of those visits were related to recovery from Hurricane Katrina. From Montgomery, the Bushes learned to appreciate Mississippi and Mississippians and how fortuitous those relationships were for us.

Of course, that was back when working across the aisle and compromise weren’t dirty words.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at


Anonymous said...

Two great (and honored military) men. Everybody knows Bush's story, but Sonny served as an officer in WW2 and retired as a 1 star general (I think).

Anonymous said...

Sonny Montgomery never found it necessary to pretend to be a Republican.

Anonymous said...

I'm so tired of the practice of somehow connecting Mississippi to everything political nationwide. Most WASP(s) can trace direct lineage back to the English Monarchy, but we do this when displaying, archiving, or discovering our respective pedigrees? Nope.

This exercise of an inferiority complex needs to stop. The truth is that we're really not all that important in the grand scheme of things, so please quit grasping at straws.

Anonymous said...

10:08 is right.

Whine and Cheese? said...

@10:08 AM - I have a comfort dog for your safe space to supplement your blankey, hot chocolate, and binkie.

Just trying to do my part to help the disabled.

Anonymous said...

Yep 10:08, nothing but a bunch of rednecks but they will claim a flea on Scully's back to make a connection.

Anonymous said...

And we now have the weakest DC delegation in decades. We'd better elect some statewide folks next year that can get MS on the road of self-sufficiency.

Anonymous said...

10:08: I'll stop grasping at straws when you stop swatting at WASPS. Deal?

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS