Speakers at the funeral for the longtime legislator and businessman who died Wednesday at age 93 recalled his service to Augusta.
“He was a red-blooded Georgia boy of the Greatest Generation,” U.S. District Court Judge Dudley Bowen Jr. told a full sanctuary at St. Paul’s Church. “Jack was a friend to all of us.”
Bowen said Connell showed that a man can do anything if he doesn’t care who gets the credit.
“I think he lived by that,” the judge said.
Connell served 34 years in the Legislature and was speaker pro tempore of the House for 26 years, considered a national record.
Stories of his legislative effectiveness brought laughter from the crowd, including Connell’s favorite legislative advice: “If you’re going to ask for a lot of money, say it fast so it doesn’t sound so much.”
Former state Rep. Terry Coleman recalled how Connell and powerful House Speaker Tom Murphy would always “joust” in closed-door budget meetings. Murphy, a west Georgia lawyer, would always push the legal position of legislation, Coleman said, while Connell would offer the businessman’s side.
Murphy might appear to win publicly, Coleman said, but Connell usually got something for Augusta in the bargain.
“It’s clear to see what Jack did for Augusta and the state,” he said.
State Rep. Calvin Smyre, of Columbus, said he canceled a Saturday appearance in Macon for the honor of attending Connell’s farewell. He called him a great friend and said Connell was instrumental in helping him when he first came to the Legislature years ago.
Another former House colleague, Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, now a member of Georgia’s Public Service Commission, sang instead of speaking, offering a solo rendition of the Lord’s Prayer.
While Connell’s lawmaking was commended, he was also warmly remembered for his kindness.
“I never heard him say a bad word about anybody,” friend Hank Garrett said.
He said he used to marvel that Connell was a politician who not only kept his phone publicly listed but also would get up from his beloved card games to answer it.
“He would ask one question of the caller: Are you a registered voter?” Garrett remembered. “If the answer was ‘yes,’ the conversation would begin. If they weren’t, the card game would continue.”
Garrett said Connell’s love for golf often did not always yield success. At his 70th birthday party, for example, Connell had received many golf balls, which his friends then threw into his swimming pool because “we wanted them to get used to being wet,” Garrett said.
Many of those golfing friends took part in Saturday’s service, with about 70 members of the Augusta Golf Association lining the walkway out of the church as honorary pallbearers.
They watched with others as an eight-man Georgia State Patrol honor guard carried Connell’s flag-draped casket from the church and placed it in the bed of a black Ford F150 pickup for a final trip to Summerville Cemetery for burial.
“He didn’t want to go in a hearse,” a funeral attendant said.