Mr. Shelby’s work was about “trying to make sure we got our fair share,” said Sandy Stimpson, the mayor of Mobile, where an estimated one in five people lives in poverty.
Mr. Shelby has funded roads and bridges and hospitals and public libraries and drinking water systems; university research into topics as varied as the prevention of diseases in local foods like catfish and oranges, to improved monitoring systems for coastal flooding and hurricanes, to the combustion behavior of liquid oxygen.
For some of his biggest priorities — such as the Redstone Arsenal, the military installation near Huntsville that houses Army missile programs, the F.B.I., and the Marshall Space Flight Center — Mr. Shelby secured vast infusions of federal funds bit by bit each year, shoehorning them into bill after bill over the course of decades.
“I thought the best thing I could do with federal money was not pave somebody’s driveway,” Mr. Shelby said. What he tried to do instead was “to build institutions, and then infrastructure that would create more of a competitive environment for the long run.”
At Redstone Arsenal, he successfully lobbied the Air Force to build the new U.S. Space Command’s headquarters, and pushed the F.B.I. to expand its footprint there, an investment that has now topped $2.48 billion, much of it built by earmarks. And he sent billions of dollars to support research and expand jobs at NASA’s civilian rocketry and spacecraft propulsion research center there.
Sometimes his advocacy came in the form of a few paragraphs. In 2011, when lawmakers were rushing to approve a short-term spending bill to ensure the government did not shut down, Mr. Shelby tucked in language that blocked NASA from scrapping an effort to commission rockets with “heavy-lift” capabilities, a move that would have eliminated hundreds of jobs at Redstone Arsenal.
Mr. Shelby, in part for personal reasons, has also taken a special interest in Alabama’s universities, which have been some of the biggest beneficiaries of his largess. In 1987, during Mr. Shelby’s first year in the Senate, his wife, the first woman to become a tenured professor at Georgetown University’s business school, suffered kidney failure from lupus. The family turned to the medical staff at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.