Tuesday, March 29, 2005

On Howell Heflin: 1921-2005

The New York Times reports the death of former Alabama Senator Howell Heflin:

Former Senator Howell Heflin of Alabama, a conservative Democrat who supported civil rights legislation and was sometimes described as the conscience of the Senate, died on Tuesday at a hospital in Sheffield, Ala., near his home in Tuscumbia. He was 83.

His death was announced by his family.

Mr. Heflin, a large, bearlike man, was chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court before he was elected in 1978 to the Senate, where he served for 18 years.

Although a sophisticated and judicious thinker, Heflin promoted an impression that he was something of a country bumpkin (sort of like the way The Simpsons would portray Matlock -- or Phil Hartman's famous "caveman" attorney on Saturday Night Live).

This anecdote -- which I heard from an eyewitness -- illustrates how Heflin cultivated this image.

One evening at the now-closed but once chic midtown Manhattan restaurant, Lutece, Heflin was dining with lawyers and lobbyists. The sommelier came by to take the table's wine order, when Senator Heflin drawled, "Suh, do you have any roe-zay wine?"

"No, sir," the sommelier replied, "I'm sorry, but we have only red and white wines on our list. Would you like a cabernet, perhaps, or a pinot noir?"

"That just won't do," said Judge Heflin. "But I'll tell you what: Bring me one bottle of red wine and one bottle of white, and I'll figger things out."

The sommelier brought two bottles of fine wine, one red, one white, as requested.

Then, to the astonishment of the waiter, the sommelier, and everyone seated at the table, Heflin proceeded to pour both wines simultaneously into his glass, mixing them with a spoon.

He took a sip and smiled, pronouncing: "That's a fine roe-zay."

And that was Howell Heflin.

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