Campaign signs for the late U.S. Representative marked the way along Main Street in Tupelo towards Calvary Baptist Church, opposite the federal building where the U.S. flag was flying at half-staff. Inside, the church’s sanctuary was packed with more than a thousand mourners, among them many state politicians and several dozen members of the U.S. Congress, including Republican House Speaker John Boehner.
Nunnelee’s oldest son, Reed, gave an elegant and smart eulogy. He told the audience that of the many public hats his father had worn – it was one in particular that he had cherished most.
“Most of you in this room knew him by one of his many political titles, Mr. Chairman, Senator, Congressman. But if you hung around him long enough you knew that there was one title he was proudest of,” Reed Nunnelee said.
Then Reed Nunnelee turned and played on a large video screen a snippet from the commencement address the late Congressman had given at his graduation from law school in 2012.
“While I may have a lot of titles, the title I am most proud of is ‘dad.’ ”
The 56-year-old third-term Republican congressman had died Friday of a brain tumor after months of fighting back from a stroke, suffered during an initial brain surgery to remove the tumor. Repeatedly wiping away tears, a visibly emotional Governor Phil Bryant told the congregation:
“Alan Nunnelee was my friend. My brother. And the best man I ever knew. I love Alan Nunnelee and I know that God loves him, too.”
But Bryant also injected some levity when describing Nunnelee’s generally cheerful disposition.
“He was always telling me how wonderful life could be,” the Governor said. “Even when he was Appropriations Chairman and I was Lt. Governor. [laughter] He would say, ‘ Don’t worry, Governor– we are doing just fine.’ He had a strong faith like that.”
During his political career, Nunnelee had been most concerned with reducing the federal debt, creating jobs, outlawing abortion, and more recently – repealing Obamacare. According to Rex Gillis, his close friend from high school, Nunnelee had followed a strong calling to public service.
“So, I just think it’s appropriate at this celebration as we witness Alan’s legacy — and I know we are in a church – but I just think that we just need to clap and thank this family and Alan.
Nunnelee’s son Reed, in closing, summed up what his father had taught him.
“I am sad. I am sad beyond belief. But I don’t despair. Because I had a daddy who taught me the most important lesson that real joy is found only in the Christ,” Reed Nunnelee said.
And then he let his father have the last word, again playing a video clip from his commencement address.
SOT Nunnelee: “I encourage you, in order to cope with change, put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Something much more important and much more lasting than anything you see here today.”
Nunnelee is survived by his parents, his wife Tori, three adult children, and two grandchildren – with a third one on the way. He served as a Mississippi state senator for 15 years before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010.