Former Sen. Jennings Randolph Dies

Former Sen. Jennings Randolph, a New Dealer who authored the constitutional amendment that gave 18-year-olds the right to vote, died Friday in St. Louis. He was 96 years old.

Randolph, a West Virginia Democrat, served four full terms in the Senate from 1958 to 1985 and seven terms in the House of Representatives from 1933 to 1947.

He died about 11 a.m. of pneumonia at St. John's Mercy Skilled Nursing Center said his son Frank, who lives in Washington, D.C.

"West Virginia has lost a devoted son, and a true servant," said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. "His work on behalf of West Virginia from FDR's first 100 days to fighting for the right of 18-year-olds to vote, lives on in the hearts of all of us."

Randolph has been living at the St. Louis nursing home since 1988. A son, Jay, lives in St. Louis and is a broadcaster for the Florida Marlins baseball team.

Confined to a wheelchair in recent years, he nevertheless loved to chat about politics and history with fellow residents and callers from West Virginia and Washington, D.C.

"I'm the one who lowered the voting age, you know. I gave 18-year-olds the vote. Now that's a federal act, so I'm proud of that. That was my legislation," he said in a 1994 interview with The Associated Press.

The 26th Amendment, ratified in 1972, lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. He introduced the amendment 11 times before Congress finally approved it.

Richard Baker, historian of the Senate, said Randolph also was instrumental in helping the blind and funding interstate highways. Interstate 79 in West Virginia bears Randolph's name.

"Very few senatorial careers were as full as his," Baker said."He always struck me as the image of a senator's senator, a teacher within the institution who would take young senators beneath his wing and lecture them, sometimes gently and sometimes not-so-gently, about the importance of etiquette."

One of Randolph's last major acts as senator was to save the Appalachian Regional Commission, which he helped create in 1964. The commission, which was to have expired in 1979, funnels millions of federal dollars into 13 Appalachian states for public works and economic development.

"Much of his career was spent building roads, bridges, water and sewer systems the background that has proved so vital to West Virginia and the nation's growth," said Rep. Bob Wise. "All Americans, no matter how young or how old, owe a great debt of thanks to Senator Randolph."

Randolph often spoke to new citizens and urged people to vote.

"There is no citizenship taught in the schools anymore," he said in 1985. "Many teachers can't tell you that there's a national Flag Day."

An aviation buff who learned to fly when he was 43, Randolph also sponsored several basic aviation laws, including the Civil Aeronautics Act.

But he largely focused his attention on homestate issues.

"I essentially am a West Virginia senator. I'm not what you'd call a national senator or international senator," Randolph once said.

Written by Jim Vertuno ©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed