Former U.S. Rep. Jack Brinkley who helped push I-185 through Congress dies at age 88

Retired U.S. Congressman Jack Brinkley, Democrat from the 3rd Congressional District, talks with the congregation at Wynnbrook Baptist Church during the National Day of Prayer gathering in 2011.
Retired U.S. Congressman Jack Brinkley, Democrat from the 3rd Congressional District, talks with the congregation at Wynnbrook Baptist Church during the National Day of Prayer gathering in 2011. rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com

Former U.S. Rep. Jack Brinkley, a strong supporter in developing Interstate 185 and improving training at Fort Benning in the 3rd Congressional District, died Wednesday at St. Francis Hospital. He was 88.

Brinkley, of Columbus, was pronounced dead at 7:25 a.m. in the emergency room at the hospital, Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan said.

Jane Bayer, a press aide for Brinkley from 1978-79, recalled how the former school teacher stayed connected to constituents. “He just really cared about the 3rd District of Georgia,” she said. “He always made sure we stayed in close contact with constituents. That was before the days of email. We responded to every constituent with a letter.“

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., said he was saddened by the passing of a dear friend and mentor. “He was a great representative in Washington for our area and he served us with great distinction,” Bishop said. “Our nation has lost an exceptional public servant, and I have lost a trusted friend and mentor. Georgia and the nation are truly better because of his service and we extend our sincerest condolences to his family and friends.”

Born Dec. 22, 1930, in Faceville, Ga., Brinkley attended public schools and graduated from Young Harris College in 1949. He taught school from 1949 to 1951 and coached basketball before entering the U.S. Air Force where he served as a pilot from 1951-1956.

Three years after leaving the military, Brinkley graduated from the University of Georgia law school in 1959, was admitted to the bar and started a practice in Columbus. He served in the state House of Representatives in 1965-66 and as a Democrat to Congress from Jan. 3, 1967-Jan. 3, 1983, serving the 3rd Congressional District for eight terms.

After Brinkley arrived in Congress, one of his first efforts was to link Columbus to Interstate 85. At the time, Columbus was the largest city in the United States not included on the original interstate highway system. Brinkley was recognized by Columbus City Council in March 1974 for his efforts to remedy the inequity.

“We had the bad reputation for a long time,” said former Columbus Councilman Jack Land, who served from 1971-1992. “That was a big deal. That was a significant accomplishment, probably the most important thing before consolidation. “

Land said Brinkley was always very accessible, very cooperative with city and the state Legislature in getting things done for the area. “Jack was one who always took his job seriously and I think one of his mottos was he never forgot who sent him,” Land said of Brinkley’s years in Congress.

“People tend to forget,” Land said. “Sometimes, the person that plants the seed is not always the one that reaps the harvest. Jack and some of the others planted the seed and everybody is receiving benefits from it.”

A former Air Force pilot, he served on the House committees on Armed Services and Veterans Affairs, and the Armed Services Committee’s Military Installations and Facilities Committee, which has legislative jurisdiction over military construction and base operations.

Brinkley was a big supporter of Fort Benning. In October 1975, he supported $28 million for the post to build new barracks in the Sand Hill area.

He also backed One Station Unit Training. After a seven-year fight, his efforts led to infantry troops getting both basic and advanced training at Fort Benning. About $100 million had been spent on six of 10 barracks authorized for the expansion.

Bayer said Brinkley was instrumental in getting Fort Mitchell Cemetery declared as a national cemetery. “That was really important to the people of Georgia and Alabama,” she said.

Before leaving office, Brinkley offended some black constituents for voting against the extension of the federal Voting Rights Act . At the time, he said he was against it because the act applied to a few states, not the entire nation.

He did not seek re-election in 1982 to the 98th Congress.“ There is a time for every season; a time to speak and a time to be silent,” Brinkley said of one of his most important campaign message. ”After eight elections to Congress, there is another time and another season for me.”