Thomas Donald Bevill (1921-2005) was one of Alabama's longest-serving congressmen (1967-1997), representing the Fourth and Seventh Districts. A moderate Democrat, he was known as a staunch supporter of improving the economy of Appalachia and was committed to using federal funds to improve the living standards of Alabamians. Considered a humble, pleasant, polite, and principled public servant by Democrats and Republicans, he often was referred to as Alabama's "third senator" because of his political clout and ability to acquire funds for state projects.
Bevill was born in the small mining community of Townley, Walker County, on March 27, 1921, to Herman and Fannie Lou Fike Bevill. He attended public schools in Yellow Shanks and graduated from Walker County High School in 1939. Bevill grew up during the Great Depression, witnessed how Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs transformed the South, and became keenly aware of the need for economic development in Alabama. He attended the University of Alabama's School of Commerce and Business Administration, where he earned a B.S. in 1943. Bevill married his college sweetheart Lou Betts of Margaret, St. Clair County, on June 24, 1943; they would have three children. He then enlisted in the U.S. Army Infantry, attained the rank of a captain, and led a group of soldiers across the English Channel into France in the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion during World War II. He later became a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.
Bevill continued his education at the University of Alabama School of Law, where he was a member of the Gamma Alpha Chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha; he received a bachelor's degree in law in 1948. He was admitted to the Alabama State Bar and became a member of the Odd Fellows, Loyal Order of Moose, and Lions Club.
From 1958 to 1966, Bevill represented Walker County in the Alabama State House of Representatives. He lost his first run for the U.S. Congress in the 1964 Democratic primary against incumbent Carl Elliott but defeated Wayman Sherrer in 1966, taking the Seventh District (primarily the Black Belt counties of western Alabama) seat vacated by Rep. James D. Martin. He became the first congressional candidate from Alabama to receive more than 100,000 votes. In subsequent elections, he never won with less than 68 percent of the vote and often with as much as 80 percent. On February 16, 1968, during a demonstration of emergency response services by the Alabama Telephone Company in Haleyville, he became the first person in the United States to answer a 9-1-1 emergency phone call. Bevill represented the Seventh District until 1973, when Alabama underwent congressional redistricting, and he took over the Fourth District seat.
Bevill served on the House Appropriations Committee and from 1977 to 1985 was chairman of its Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, which oversaw federal funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission and Tennessee Valley Authority. During the 1980s, he secured funding for the completion of the 232-mile Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and also appropriated federal money to begin construction of a highway, known as Corridor X, between Memphis and Birmingham. Bevill also obtained funding for the development of the NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, located in Huntsville. He became known as "The King of Pork" for securing federal money for development projects in his district.
To further benefit Alabamians, Bevill sponsored a bill in 1992 that led to the creation of the Little River Canyon National Preserve in northeast Alabama. He also oversaw funding for the nation's nuclear weapons programs and supported the Superconducting Super Collider project, which Congress defunded in 1993 after $2 billion was spent.
Bevill received numerous awards during his congressional career. He won Policymaker of the Year (1989) from the National Homebuilders Institute, the Outstanding Legislator Award from the Southeastern Tourism Society, the Aubrey D. Green Award from the Alabama Lions, the Achievement in Government Award (1989) from the University of Alabama School of Commerce and Business Administration, the Distinguished Service Award (1992) from the National Rural Electric Cooperative, the National Security Leadership Award (1994) from the American Wind Energy Association, and Congressman of the Year for 1994.
In 1996, Bevill was a delegate from Alabama to the Democratic National Convention but retired from Congress the following year after 15 terms. He returned to his law office in Jasper and practiced with his son Don Bevill. Following years of declining health after undergoing triple coronary bypass surgery, Bevill died of heart failure on March 28, 2005, in Jasper, one day after his 84th birthday. He is buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Jasper.
Bevill gained many accolades for his service to Alabama. In 1981, Bevill received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the
University of Alabama, where he was the keynote speaker at the 150th Anniversary graduation. In addition he was bestowed with
an honorary L.L.S. degree from Livingston University (now the University of West Alabama), a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of North Alabama, and a Doctor of Laws degree from Troy State University. Bevill practiced law in Jasper, the seat of Walker County, for 18 years and participated in civic, educational, and religious organizations. He was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 1986, and in 1990 the University of Alabama honored him
with the Tom Bevill Energy, Mineral, and Materials Science Research Building, which is dedicated solely to research. The University
of Alabama School of Law created the Tom Bevill Chair of Law. In 2010, he was inducted into the Alabama Men's Hall of Fame. Some of the numerous structures across Alabama named in his honor include the Tom Bevill Center for Advanced Manufacturing
Technology, the Tom Bevill Enrichment Center, Bevill State Community College, the Tom Bevill Allied Health Building, and the
Tom Bevill Industrial Park. For his attention to Alabama's waterways, one of four lock and dam structures on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in Pickens County was renamed the Tom Bevill Lock And Dam and includes the Tom Bevill East Bank Fishing Area, and Visitor's Center. The Tom
Bevill Reservoir covers 2,000 acres northwest of Berry, Fayette County, and was designed as a drinking-water reservoir.
Tom Bevill Papers, W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library, University of Alabama.
Brett J. Derbes
Published July 11, 2012
Last updated September 11, 2014