WASHINGTON (BP) — Christian faith, integrity, servanthood and the defense of the vulnerable characterized the life of Rep. Alan Nunnelee, political allies and rivals said in the wake of his death.
Nunnelee, 56, a Republican congressman from Mississippi, passed away Feb. 6 after an eight-month battle with brain cancer and a stroke. Nunnelee, a Southern Baptist, had just begun his third two-year term in the House of Representatives. Before his first election to Congress in 2010, he served 16 years in the Mississippi Senate.
He was a longtime member of Tupelo’s Calvary Baptist Church, where he had served as a Sunday School teacher and deacon. Nunnelee is survived by his wife Tori; three children and their spouses; and two grandchildren.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), told Baptist Press he was “heartbroken” about Nunnelee’s death both “as a Southern Baptist and as a son of Mississippi.”
“Congressman Nunnelee was revered for his public integrity and his personal walk with Christ,” Moore said in written comments. “He was one of the greatest allies the ERLC had in the House, always working to advance the causes of human dignity and religious liberty. He is in a much better House now than the House of Representatives could ever be.”
Fellow Southern Baptists in Mississippi’s congressional delegation lauded Nunnelee.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R., described his close friend of 33 years as “a courageous man who knew what he believed in and remained steadfast in those convictions.”
“A man of his word, Alan had a strong faith that guided his actions. He had a way of bringing people together on issues that affected our state and nation,” Wicker said in a written statement.
Rep. Gregg Harper, R., called Nunnelee “a loyal and dedicated statesman,” as well as “my friend and encourager. His devotion to his family, his love for Mississippi, and his commitment to our Lord gave me strength and inspiration.”
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, R., said Nunnelee was “the best man I ever knew,” according to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.
Democrats in the state legislature commented on Nunnelee’s integrity.
“Alan and I were at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but I always found him to be a gentleman, a patriot, a devoted public servant and a family man,” said Rep. Steve Holland, D.-Plantersville, the Daily Journal reported. “We shared the Public Health [Committee] chairmanships jointly for four years and I found him principled, stoic, studious and stalwart.”
President Obama commended Nunnelee in a statement after the congressman’s death, saying he “never wavered in his determination to serve the men and women who placed their trust in him, even as he bravely battled the illness that ultimately took his life. As a Sunday School teacher and a deacon at his church, Alan believed deeply in the power of faith and the strength of American families.”
Speaker of the House John Boehner and about 40 other members of Congress attended Nunnelee’s memorial service Monday (Feb. 9) at Calvary Baptist Church in Tupelo. The Daily Journal also reported Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, House Speaker Philip Gunn and other state lawmakers were present.
Nunnelee was a pro-life leader in the Mississippi Senate and remained a faithful defender of the sanctity of human life in Washington. He had a 100 percent pro-life voting record during his two terms in the House, according to the National Right to Life Committee.
He was a “go-to guy” for the pro-life cause in the state Senate, said Barbara Whitehead, president of Mississippi Right to Life. She told BP, “If we needed something, he was always there.”
The work of Nunnelee and others has helped make Mississippi one of the country’s leading pro-life states. In January, Americans United for Life ranked Mississippi second in the United States for protecting unborn children and their mothers through public policy.
In his death, Nunnelee — as well as his family — demonstrated his heartfelt concern for vulnerable children. Instead of flowers, Nunnelee’s family asked memorial gifts be made to New Beginnings, a Christian adoption agency with an office in Tupelo, or Tupelo Children’s Mansion, a Christian-based home for orphans and disadvantaged children.
In a Feb. 6 post, a New Beginnings blogger expressed gratitude for Nunnelee’s volunteer work as the chairman for eight years and co-chairman for two years of the agency’s Celebration of Adoption.
Nunnelee “used his influence and his voting abilities to leave a lasting legacy,” Hilary Hamblin wrote. “Countless lives have been changed by the work he did to support life and adoption on the political front.”