Ebenezer A.R.P. Church was filled with friends of the late John David Pennebaker Friday to mark the official naming of a section of Highway 15 in his honor.
Cohorts talked about Pennebaker mixing seriousness with humor, recounting his time in the state legislature.
Probably his greatest accomplishments were shepherding the 1987 four-lane highway program through the legislature and past a gubernatorial veto, and the creation of the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
To recognize that service the legislature through House Bill 756 formally decreed that the section of Highway 15 from the New Albany City Limits to the Tippah County line – a route Pennebaker travelled daily to the family farm - will be known as the John David Pennebaker Memorial Highway.
“John David did a remarkable thing,” Rep. Margaret Rogers, who holds the seat once held by Pennebaker, said. “He stood up in 1987 and got what we needed to prosper.”
“Toyota is here due to the insight of John David,” she added.
Judge Mike Mills, who served in the legislature with Pennebaker, said, “John David was an aristocrat. He had uncommon virtues. But he could not have accomplished anything without the support of the people of Union County.”
On a lighter note, Mills told how Pennebaker was known as “The Godfather” because of his influence over housing arrangements at the near-legendary Sun-N-Sand Motor Hotel in Jackson where many legislators stayed during sessions. “If you were in good with John David he would move your room closer to his; if not, you would be farther away,” Mills joked.
Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert said he did not have the opportunity to know Pennebaker as well as others. In fact, his first meeting was at the I-22 dedication. “Somebody tapped me on the back and I turned around but did not recognize him,” Tagert said. “You need to know me, he said, and I replied ‘Yes, sir, I do.’”
Though it has been 27 years since Pennebaker was in the legislature, his influence is still being felt.
“The Pennebaker name holds high reverence in the Department of Transportation and is treated with respect and dignity.”
“Good character is what delivers on promises,” he said, noting that Pennebaker’s honesty was perhaps his most effective tool. “When we say visionary, we truly do mean it.”
An attorney, Pennebaker was New Albany’s youngest mayor, serving two terms and later being elected to the state House of Representatives where he served 17 years, serving on numerous committees.
His 1987 bill provided $1.6 billion in funding for the construction of 1,077 miles of 4 lane highways throughout the state, (a portion of this is now I -22) and the 1992 bill created the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
After retiring from the Legislature in 1992, he continued his law practice, but also served as interim Union County Chancery Clerk from June until November 1999 and later as interim Union County Justice Court Judge.
Pennebaker died in March, 2016 and is buried at Ebenezer. Fittingly, a lane of asphalt leads up to his grave.