After the death of former Rep. G.V. Montgomery (D.-Miss.) on May 12 at age 85, the World War II veteran and former chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee was remembered as his fellow veterans’ best friend in Congress. Whatever the issue involving men and women in uniform — eligibility for home loans, expansion of the GI Bill to include education benefits for National Guard and Reserve personnel as well as those on active duty — the Mississippian was inevitably in the lead.
But there was more to the man known universally as "Sonny." He called himself a conservative Democrat and steadfastly remained that way as his party in Congress moved increasingly to the left. Montgomery (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 89%) was the embodiment of the term "Boll Weevil" — the Southern Democrats who were as conservative as most Republicans on defense, spending, and social issues.
A graduate of Mississippi State College and its ROTC program, Montgomery joined the U.S. Army and saw action in Europe (where he won the Bronze Star) and later in Korea. While launching a successful insurance business at home in Meridian and winning election to the state senate in 1956, he also rose to the rank of major general in the Mississippi National Guard.
When Republican Rep. Prentiss Walker gave up his seat after one term to run unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1966, Democrat Montgomery won it with 65% of the vote. An outspoken supporter of U.S. action in Vietnam and critic of anti-war demonstrators, Montgomery was also one of three House Democrats to stick with Richard Nixon after impeachment articles were voted in 1974. The Mississippian backed Ronald Reagan’s tax- and budget-cutting measures in 1981 and was a strong backer of the Republican President’s effort to rebuild America’s defenses in the 1980s.
But Montgomery also paid a price for being a conservative Democrat. In 1984, he was passed over by House Democrats for the chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee in favor of the less senior Les Aspin (D.-Wis.) and in 1994, when Democrats lost the House, he came within one vote of losing the ranking position on his beloved Veterans Affairs Committee to liberal Rep. Lane Evans (D.-Ill.).
Lifelong bachelor Montgomery was in demand on the Washington dinner-party circuit and known for escorting beautiful women. In the late 1960s, his frequent companion was a lawyer in the White House Office of Consumer Affairs named Elizabeth Hanford — now Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R.-N.C.).