Archived Story

‘Big Tom’ Radney leaves big legacy

Published 7:48pm Monday, August 8, 2011

Former state Sen. Tom Radney, a respected local attorney and prominent Democrat in state politics for many years, died Sunday at the age of 79.

Radney, known as “Big Tom” to those who knew him and “Mr. Alabama Democrat” across the South, died at his home Sunday morning, his son Thomas Radney told The Outlook Monday.

A visitation will be held at Mr. Radney’s home Tuesday from 4 to 7 p.m. There will be a memorial celebration at the First United Methodist Church in Alexander City Wednesday at 1 p.m. Dr. Charles Gattis will officiate.

“This is really going to leave an empty space in Alexander City,” Mayor Barbara Young said. “He was an excellent attorney, a first-rate politician, a good family man and a very genuine person. He was one person who I always liked to see around, and I will miss Tom personally. I will.”

Born June 18, 1932, the Wadley native was the youngest of five children born to Beatrice Simpson Radney and James Monroe Radney. Radney graduated from Auburn High School two years early at the young age of 16 and immediately went to Auburn University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in history. He knew he wanted to be a lawyer, so he continued his education at the University of Alabama, where he earned a Juris Doctorate at 23.

After graduation, Radney was admitted to the Alabama State Bar in 1955 and attended the Army Law School at the University of Virginia before serving in the U.S. Army Judge General Corp with the rank of captain. He would later say this was a wonderful experience to prepare him for his occupation in law.

After being discharged from the army, Radney toured Europe before settling down in Alexander City in 1960 to begin his law practice.

Radney was a delegate to five Democratic National Conventions beginning in 1960 with John F. Kennedy’s presidential nomination and held a long time connection with the Kennedy family.

He also started his own family in September 1962 when he married Madolyn Boyd Anderson of Montomery. The couple later had four children: Ellen Radney Price, Fran Radney Harvey, Hollis Radney Lovett and Thomas Anderson Radney.

In 1966 he was elected as an Alabama state senator, representing Macon, Elmore and Tallapoosa counties. While in office, “Big Tom” fought hard for civil rights.

“He made a big effort to work toward justice for all citizens in Alexander City,” said Barbara Sokol, a family friend of the Radney family. “He was one of those people who really worked hard to show others that all people are equal.”

While serving in the state legislature, he introduced a bill to lower the voting age to 18, which passed and became the 26th amendment to the constitution. He also introduced the “Radney Rule,” which prohibited any candidate from running as a Democrat unless they supported the party in general or special elections during the preceding four years.

In 1970, he ran for Lieutenant Governor of Alabama.

One of Radney’s biggest cases while practicing law began in 1975 when he represented Rev. Maxwell in cases that shocked the state and country. Maxwell was accused of murdering four different people in four different cases, but Radney was able to convince the jury that he was innocent on counts of insanity and self-defense. Then, in a fifth trial in 1977, he represented Mr. Robert Louis Burns of killing Rev. Maxwell at a funeral of one of Maxwell’s victims. Because of his courtroom finesse, he convinced the jury to find Burns innocent because of insanity.

“He certainly worked on a lot of historic cases that I think we would all love to see a book about at some point,” Sokol said.

Over the years, Radney held many positions in the city, county and state levels. Because of his many contributions, he was selected “Man of the Year” for Alexander City in 1977. Then on Jan. 16, 2003, former Gov. Don Siegelman proclaimed that day “Tom Radney Day” in the state of Alabama, saying, “Tom, you symbolize everything that is right with politics and everything that is right with the Democratic Party.”

Frank Foy, a dear friend of Radney’s, said he’d miss Radney greatly.

“I wish things could go back to the way they were before,” he said emotionally. “It was much simpler then. I will miss him forever.”

Thomas Radney described his father as a hard worker and said that even though he was unable to practice law in recent years, he always kept up with what was going on at the practice, and even visited the office just a week ago.

“He didn’t have much of a life outside of law, politics and his family,” Thomas Radney said. “He didn’t spend a lot of time on hobbies or things like that and because of that, he instilled in me a desire to work hard.

“We will miss him greatly. He was a role model to us all.”

The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, gifts be made in Radney’s memory to the First United Methodist Church at 310 Green St., Alexander City, AL, 35010 or the First United Methodist Church at 393 Highland Ave., Wadley, AL, 36276.