Originally created 05/06/04

Retiring lawmakers earn fond farewell



ATLANTA - One was elected before the attack on Pearl Harbor; the other came to Atlanta the first year Star Trek aired.

Georgia's longest-serving state senator and House member both said goodbye Wednesday after a cumulative 80 years of service in the Legislature.

At a special session with only one bill on the calendar, the farewell speeches of retiring Sen. Hugh Gillis and Rep. Tom Buck were the main focus for legislators, and many of them didn't even try to wipe away tears.

"I'm going to miss you, but it's time to go fishing," Mr. Gillis, 85, told senators in the chamber he's occupied for 42 years.

Before that, the Soperton Democrat spent 12 years in the state House. He took two breaks from service but is still the nation's longest-serving state legislator, first elected in the fall of 1941.

"There is no finer gentleman in this state," said Sen. Eric Johnson, of Savannah, the Senate's top-ranking Republican.

Across the hall in the House, a touching tribute was under way for Mr. Buck, a Columbus Democrat known for his trademark saddle shoes and mastery of the state budget. He was first elected in 1966.

Dozens of House colleagues from both parties paid homage by dressing like Mr. Buck: saddle shoes, khaki pants and navy blazer. They lined the House aisle and formally escorted Mr. Buck to the podium amid whoops and whistles.

"I am honored and flattered," Mr. Buck said, choking back tears. "It's been a real privilege for me to represent the people of Columbus and Muscogee County."

Amid the jovial atmosphere, lawmakers traded Mr. Buck impersonations.

"It's a damn good budget," mimicked Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville.

To which Rep. Richard Royal replied, "Is there anything for Columbus in there?"

Another dressed-up lawmaker teased Mr. Royal for wearing the saddle shoes. Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs, told the Camilla Democrat, "They may think you're a dandy down in Camilla."

Mr. Royal laughed. "I wouldn't wear 'em down in Camilla."

Mr. Buck was a fine sport about the ribbing about his shoes.

"When I was a kid, my mom used to buy me saddle shoes, and I've just always worn 'em," he said.

Lawmakers cut up all morning, posing for pictures in their Buck costumes, but their fondness for the gruff legislator was evident.

"What a great guy with a lot of class," said House Speaker Terry Coleman, D-Eastman.

Republicans were just as sentimental.

"For those of us from the other side of the aisle, we're gonna miss you," said Republican Whip Jerry Keen, of St. Simons Island.