“Having served in the Senate during the time he was the speaker pro tem of the House, I know him to be a man of great integrity and a great public servant,” Deal said. “We all send our sympathy and condolences to the family for their loss.”
The governor said it was too early to announce plans for any formal tribute.
House Speaker David Ralston said, “We’ll be in discussions a little while to see what type of further recognition we will be doing. As the governor said, we just got word late yesterday, and it’s early.”
The House of Representatives began its day Thursday with a moment of silence for Connell. Before his retirement from the House in 2002, he had represented Augusta since 1969. The last 26 years, he held the second-highest position in the House, speaker pro tempore, the longest of anyone in the United States in a similar post.
House members vote every two years for the speaker and the speaker pro tempore. He presided in the speaker’s place.
He also chaired the delegation of local members of the House and Senate and campaigned in the area for fellow Democrats running statewide.
“He was a tireless advocate for Augusta and Richmond County,” said Ralston.
The speaker invited all of the members of the Augusta delegation to the well of the House when he made his announcement.
“The one thing you heard about Jack Connell was he was a true gentleman and public servant,” Ralston said.
Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, took a moment to speak on his behalf. He was a personal friend, she said, and helped her get elected even though she was in a different party.
“He loved his job, and he told me many times he missed being here.”
Sen. Bill Jackson, of Augusta, was a Democrat when he served at various times in the House and Senate with Connell and remembered him playing referee within the local delegation during negotiations over contentious issues.
“The good thing was his door was always open,” said Jackson, who is now a Republican. “We could always go in there and work things out nicely.”