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Remembering Jack Biddle III: A senator who served Alabama with distinction and wit

It’s easy for the public to dismiss public servants and declare ‘they’re all the same.’

That’s simply not true. Alabama lost one of its more distinguished legislators on Sunday.

Senator Jack Biddle III of Gardendale died at the age of 94. Jack was a mentor, a dear friend, and, quite possibly, the most genuine person I ever met. I will miss him greatly.  

Jack Biddle began his elected public service in the Alabama House of Representatives in 1974. In those days, all legislators were Democrats and Jack served as a conservative Democrat in the House for more than two terms.

After a Court ordered special elections using new maps in 1983, the Democratic Party tossed Jack from their ballot and he was forced to run for his House seat as an Independent.

According to longtime Montgomery observer Steve Flowers, Jack’s “conservative philosophy got him kicked out as a democrat.” In a three-way election, Biddle was able to best his two opponents and became the rare independent candidate to have success at the ballot box.  

After serving the balance of the term as an independent, in 1986, Jack formally switched parties and ran as a Republican for the House. Upon his election as a Republican, Jack Biddle became the first legislator to be elected to the body as a Democrat, an Independent and a Republican.

Jack ran for the Alabama Senate and served in that body from 1994 until 2006.  

Jack was chosen by 3 Governors to be their floor leader. He chaired numerous Legislative committees including Rules; Conservation and Natural Resources; and the Joint Transportation Committee.

As Gardendale Mayor Hogeland stated, “Jack loved people and especially our city.” 

Regardless of whether Jack served as part of the majority or the minority of the body, he always managed to deliver for his constituents. A few years after his service in the Legislature ended, Jack told me his lingering regret was he “no longer had a platform he could use to help folks.”

But that simply wasn’t the case. Jack’s influence lasted long after his service ended.  

Jack Biddle was a lifelong champion for mental health issues. In addition to his tireless efforts as a legislator, he served: As a Trustee for the Department of Mental Health, on the UAB Department of Psychiatry’s Advisory Board, on the Glenwood Board of Directors and on the National Alliance for Mental Illness. Jack’s dedication has made our state’s mental health delivery system better than it would have been but for his dedication. 

Jack Biddle was an accomplished, avid hunter and a staunch defender of the 2nd Amendment. He was honored as the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Conservationist of the Year and he served on Conservation and Natural Resources’ Advisory Board.  

During his time as a Legislator, Jack Biddle was known for his candor and his wit.

During my time in the Senate, Jack was the Senator most often quoted by his fellow Senators. In fact, his witty observations became known collectively as ‘Biddle-isms.’

Biddle used to love to rankle his colleague from Walker County by claiming if ‘he had a brother in jail and another in Walker County, he believed he go get the one out of Walker County first.’

Even though he loved to use his wit to ‘pick’ on his colleagues, Jack treated all his colleagues with respect, and they, in turn, respected him.  Today, the Senate’s Health Committee hearing room is named after him.  

Jack Biddle served his country as a counter-intelligence officer during the Korean War era. He was preceded in death by his wife of 70 years, Nena Berry Biddle and is survived by his son John and his daughter Jan.

Services celebrating the life of Jack Biddle will be held this Wednesday at Gardendale Heritage Funeral Home. Something tells me Jack is ahead of us again as I am certain he started celebrating the moment he reunited with his beloved wife, Nena.

Steve French is a former member of the Alabama State Senate, representing the 15th District from 1998-2010. 

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