State Rep. Lesley Vance, a longtime lawmaker from Phenix City in House District 80, died Tuesday after an extended illness. He was 76.
A Democrat who turned Republican, Vance was first elected in 1994 to the district that includes parts of Lee and Russell counties. With two years of service on the Russell County Commission and 27 years as coroner, he held public office for five decades dating back to the early 1960s.
At the time of this death, Vance was chairman of the House Finance Committee and a member of the Lee County Legislation Committee.
City officials and longtime friends said Vance will be missed.
Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe said Vance was a real statesman. “He really supported this area,” the mayor said late Tuesday. “He had Russell County and Phenix City in his heart. In his position, he wanted what was best for our area and he showed that. Look at his record and you can see. That is what I will miss the most.”
Lowe, who lost his own father almost a month ago, noted how difficult it is for a family to lose a loved one. “He is going to be greatly missed,” he said.
Jim Cannon, a Phenix City councilmember, said he has known Vance for most of his life and said the two were like brothers.
“He supported me and helped me when I ran for election,” he said. “I always supported and worked for him.”
Cannon recalled how Vance always took time to talk to people. Cannon was able to see that on his surveillance video after Vance entered his pharmacy business before he ran for city council.
“He would be in there for an hour and every person would shake his hand,” Cannon said. “He came from a real humble beginning. He was a self-made man.”
The council member said he still has photos of Vance when he ran for coroner for the first time in 1962.
“He had such a charisma about him,” Cannon said. “People honestly trusted him. People just don’t know what he did for Phenix City.”
When cheerleaders needed help with some outfits and Cannon mentioned it to Vance, “he wrote a check,” Cannon said. “He was civic minded, and I know he really cared for the community.”
Recently, Vance said this term was possibly his last in the House seat, Cannon said. “He was going to win,” he said. “He never lost an election as far as I know. He could identify with the little man, the common man or governor of the state.”
Rep. Mike Hubbard, speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, described Vance as a great leader not only for the region but the entire state.
“Today, the citizens of Russell and Lee Counties and the entire state of Alabama lost a great leader in the passing of Representative Lesley Vance,” Hubbard said in a statement. “Chairman Vance was a fine man and an effective legislator who nobly fought for his constituents for more than 20 years.”
Funeral arrangements are still pending for Vance, the owner and operator of Vance Memorial Chapel in Phenix City.
Gov. Robert Bentley will call for a special election to fill the vacancy.
Vance is survived by his wife, Pat, and three children.
Vance was born in 1939. He attended mortuary college and studied advanced business.