The state of Mississippi and DeSoto County were saddened Thursday when it was announced that retired U.S. Senator Thad Cochran had passed away at the age of 81.
Cochran passed away peacefully at his home in Oxford, said a release from the Senator’s office.
On Friday, flags were lowered to half staff in respect to the man who served Mississippi for more than 40 years until health forced him to retire in 2018.
Cochran was known as “Gentleman Thad” and “The Quiet Persuader” in reference to his style and persuasiveness. He also received the nickname of “The King of Pork” because of all of the federal money he was able to send to the state for a myriad of projects to improve Mississippi’s quality-of-life, including here in DeSoto County.
Ellen Jernigan, a longtime Republican activist who is a former Hernando alderwoman and former county party leader, this week fondly remembered Cochran for his support of the county and its needs.
“He helped DeSoto County and North Mississippi more than we will ever know,” Jernigan said. “He really cared about Mississippi and he worked really hard for Mississippi. Back in the 90s when good things started to happen for Mississippi, he and Trent Lott were right there in the trenches for us.”
Among the many projects Jernigan credited Cochran for getting accomplished was the widening of U.S. Highway 61 through western DeSoto County into the Delta.
“He was just the most pleasant man, he was just the most pleasant gentleman,” said Jernigan. “He will be missed and he has already been missed in the Senate, but I know he will be missed by many Mississippians because he was deeply loved.”
Bobby Holloway, who serves as president of the DeSoto County Republican Club, moderated a candidates’ forum in Southaven Thursday evening with party legislative candidates and Republican hopefuls for Northern District Transportation Commissioner.
Afterward, Holloway hailed Cochran for his passion to get things done for his state.
“He stood up for Mississippi, he did the right things,” Holloway said. “Mississippi would not be on the map where we are if it wasn’t for people with strong conservative values like Mr. Cochran. When our legislators went to Washington asking for funding, he always made sure we got what we needed.”
The Pontotoc native served in the U.S. Navy and then graduated from the University of Mississippi School of Law. First elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1972, Cochran served three terms before his first election to the Senate in 1978, becoming the first Republican to be elected to the Senate since Reconstruction.
Platitudes came from all over for Cochran on news of his passing, even from the White House, where President Donald Trump tweeted, “He was a real Senator with incredible values - even flew back to the Senate from Mississippi for an important healthcare vote when he was desperately ill.”
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant described Cochran as a statesman.
“He was a legend in the United States Senate where he worked tirelessly to move his state and country forward,” stated Bryant. “Whether it was fighting for resources during the dark days following Hurricane Katrina on the Coast or being a zealous advocate for farmers in the Delta, he dedicated himself to serving all Mississippians.”
First District Congressman Trent Kelly noted Cochran’s military and public service.
"Senator Cochran distinguished himself in service to our nation as a member of the United States Navy and as a U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator," Kelly said. "He served our great state of Mississippi and exemplified what it means to be a faithful public servant and impactful leader. I am honored to have called him a friend."
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who Bryant appointed to fill the vacant seat when Cochran retired and later was elected to a full six-year term, echoed many who said Cochran was an incredible leader.
“My colleagues who served with him consistently speak of him with such high regard,” Hyde-Smith said. “So many have said to me that he was truly their favorite Senator and friend. He treated everyone with distinction and had a caring and concerned heart for his constituents and the state he so dearly loved.”
Cochran will be remembered with a visitation at the University of Mississippi Robert C. Khayat Law Center in Oxford Sunday from 5-7 p.m.
A funeral service will be held Monday at 11 a.m. at the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson with a second service set for Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.