Tom Buck is a longtime Columbus lawyer and civic leader who served for thirty-eight years in the Georgia House of Representatives, one of the longest tenures of any lawmaker in the state’s history. Buck was a highly effective advocate for Columbus and west Georgia because of his position in the legislative leadership.
Thomas Bryant Buck III was born on March 2, 1938, in Columbus to Violet Burrus Litchfield and Thomas B. Buck Jr. After graduating from Columbus High School in 1955, he went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in 1959 and a law degree in 1962 from Emory University in Atlanta. He is married to Susan Upchurch.
Buck was first elected to the state house in 1966, when he was persuaded to run for a seat being vacated by Jack Brinkley, who ran successfully for the Third U.S. Congressional District seat that year. Buck won the election and eventually was elected to nineteen terms in all, usually without opposition.
One of the first votes he cast as a new house member in January 1967 was to elect a new governor. Democrat Lester Maddox finished behind Republican Bo Callaway in the 1966 governor’s election, but because neither candidate received 50 percent of the vote, state law at that time required the General Assembly to elect one of them as governor. The heavily Democratic legislature picked Maddox. Although Buck was a Democrat, he voted for Callaway because a majority of voters in Muscogee County (which includes Columbus) had voted for Callaway.
Buck became a committee chairman during his third year in the house, which was unusual for such a young lawmaker, and he worked his way steadily up the house leadership ladder, serving in turn as chairman of the Retirement Committee, the University System Committee, the Ways and Means Committee, and the Appropriations Committee.
A conservative Democrat, Buck was widely respected by his legislative colleagues for his expertise on the state budget along with his deep knowledge of tax law and policy. He and Calvin Smyre, one of the most powerful African Americans serving in the house, were highly effective in securing the passage of legislation and inserting allocations in the budget that benefited their home city of Columbus.
After a court-ordered reapportionment of the General Assembly in 2004 extensively changed the boundaries of his district, Buck decided to step down as the senior member of the house with thirty-eight consecutive years in office. As the 2004 legislative session neared an end, Buck’s colleagues paid a good-natured tribute to him by arriving at the capitol dressed in saddle oxford shoes, khaki pants, and blue blazers, the clothing style that Buck was best known for during his years in the house. Lawmakers lined the aisle of the house chamber and formally escorted Buck to the podium as a final recognition of his years of service. After retiring from the General Assembly, Buck became a lobbyist for the Columbus city government.