The first time I met Wendell Mitchell was about 22 years ago. As the Dean of the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law (http://www NULL.faulkner NULL.edu/jsl/news/newsDetail NULL.aspx?newsID=644), he was interviewing me for a professorship, and he asked me, “Could you fit into the South?” I assured him that would be no problem, because I was born in the South … South Dakota.
As I taught at Jones for fifteen years, Wendell was not only my Dean; he was also my mentor, and my friend. I saw in him a man who believed the Bible is relevant to government and to the teaching of law.
Wendell served for 28 years as an Alabama State Senator, and from 2007-2010 served as Deputy President Pro Tempore of the Senate. He was named “Legislator of the Year” by numerous organizations and was noted for the number of bills he introduced and guided through the legislature to final passage.
Wendell drafted and sponsored the strongest and best abstinence bill on the country, a bill which required public school teachers to teach that abstinence outside marriage is the only truly effective way to combat sexually transmitted diseases. His bill became a model for other states.
Possibly his greatest contribution to Alabama politics was Alabama’s Religious Freedom Amendment (http://alisondb NULL.legislature NULL.state NULL.al NULL.us/acas/CodeOfAlabama/Constitution/1901/CA-170364 NULL.htm), which goes beyond the First Amendment in providing that Alabamians have a right to free exercise of religion and the state can infringe that right only by showing that it has a compelling interest that cannot be achieved by less restrictive means.
As a conservative Democrat in a state that was strongly Democrat when he entered the Senate but that was moving toward the Republican Party, Wendell was in a unique position of influence, because he could work with Republicans and Democrats alike. Wendell had a unique way of seeing the best in people, in the law school as well as in state government, and he could stand above partisan politics and get people of differing persuasions to work together. In a nation that is more divided than at any time since the War Between the States, that’s the kind of leadership we need today.
At his funeral, those who spoke about Wendell emphasized his love of politics and his love of the Lord. To some, that might seem a strange combination, but in Wendell’s life they blended perfectly. The Lord and His Word were Wendell’s rock of salvation; Alabama politics was Wendell’s chosen field of Christian service.
Even though his health was failing, Wendell attended a pro-life meeting in our office some months ago. He warmly embraced me and greeted me as an old friend and ally, and it was wonderful to see him again. Thereafter, I wish I could have seen him one more time to say goodbye and tell him how much he meant to me. But it will be even better to see his cheerful smile in heaven.
‘Til then, Wendell, rest in peace, after a long fight well fought, and a long course well run.