COLUMBUS, Ga. — Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Jack Brinkley, a strong supporter in developing a highway in Georgia and improving training at Fort Benning, has died. He was 88.

Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan said Brinkley was pronounced dead at 7:25 a.m. Wednesday in the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, the Ledger-Enquirer reported .

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop said he was saddened by the passing of a man he described as a "dear friend and mentor."

"He was a great representative in Washington for our area and he served us with great distinction," Bishop said in a statement. "Our nation has lost an exceptional public servant, and I have lost a trusted friend and mentor. Georgia and the nation are truly better because of his service and we extend our sincerest condolences to his family and friends."

Brinkley served in the state House from 1965 to 1966 and in Congress from 1967 to 1983, representing the 3rd District for eight terms.

He was born in Faceville, Georgia, taught school and coached basketball before entering the U.S. Air Force where he served as a pilot from 1951 to 1956. Three years after leaving the military, Brinkley graduated from the University of Georgia law school, was admitted to the bar and started a practice in Columbus before beginning his political career.

Jane Bayer, a press aide for Brinkley from 1978-79, recalled how her former boss stayed connected to constituents.

"He just really cared about the 3rd District of Georgia," she said. "He always made sure we stayed in close contact with constituents. That was before the days of email. We responded to every constituent with a letter."

After Brinkley arrived in Congress, one of his first efforts was to link Columbus to Interstate 85. At the time, Columbus was the largest city in the United States not included on the original interstate highway system. Brinkley was recognized by the Columbus City Council in March 1974 for his efforts to remedy the inequity.

"We had the bad reputation for a long time," said former Columbus Councilman Jack Land, who served from 1971-1992. "That was a big deal. That was a significant accomplishment, probably the most important thing before consolidation. "

Land said Brinkley was always very accessible, very cooperative with the city and the state legislature in getting things done for the area. "Jack was one who always took his job seriously and I think one of his mottos was he never forgot who sent him," Land said of Brinkley's years in Congress.

Brinkley was also a big supporter of Fort Benning. In October 1975, he supported $28 million for the post to build new barracks in the Sand Hill area. Bayer also said Brinkley was instrumental in getting Fort Mitchell Cemetery declared as a national cemetery.

"That was really important to the people of Georgia and Alabama," she said.

Before leaving office, Brinkley offended some black constituents for voting against the extension of the federal Voting Rights Act. At the time, he said he opposed it because the act applied to a few states, not the entire nation.