SOPERTON, Ga. (AP) — Former state Sen. Hugh M. Gillis of Soperton, who was once honored as the longest-serving state legislator in the country with more than 50 years in the General Assembly, has died. He was 94.
Gillis died Tuesday at Meadows Regional Hospital in Vidalia with his family by his side, according to Sammons Funeral Home in Soperton. The funeral home was handling arrangements.
In 2001, the Democratic lawmaker was honored by the National Conference of State Legislators as the longest-serving state legislator in the country. He served in the state Senate continuously from 1962 until his retirement in 2004. He had previously served for 12 years in the Georgia House.
If he had not retired, Gillis would have faced state Sen. Jack Hill of Reidsville after the boundaries of the district changed through redistricting. Gillis, in a 2004 interview with The Courier Herald, said that in addition to the work of learning a new district, friendship played a part in his decision.
"I didn't want to run against a good friend," Gillis said of Hill.
Hill said Gillis was known for working hard for his district.
"To me, he will always be a great friend," Hill told the Courier Herald. "His service transcends so many huge events. There was not an event or a result that Sen. Gillis wasn't a part of. The state made tremendous progress because of his vision.
"He just optimized public service," Hill added, "and he won't be replaced or forgotten anytime."
Born in 1918 in Soperton, Gillis attended Georgia Military College and received a bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Georgia in 1939. He returned home and worked in his family's timber and land management business. Both his father and grandfather served in the General Assembly, and Gillis was first elected to office in 1941.
"You could say I was born into it," Gillis said in the 2004 interview. "Members of my family have been in politics all my life."