Longtime Mississippi U.S. Senator Thad Cochran dies at 81

Cochran represented Mississippi in Congress for more than 45 years

Longtime Mississippi U.S. Senator Thad Cochran dies at 81
Former U .S. Senator Thad Cochran passed away May 30, 2019, at the age of 81. (Source: Photo source. U.S. Senate)

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Longtime U.S. Senator Thad Cochran died at the age of 81 Thursday morning.

Cochran (R-Miss.), who represented Mississippi in Congress for more than 45 years, passed away peacefully early this morning in Oxford.

Cochran, a Navy veteran who eventually served as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senate Agriculture Committee, resigned from the Senate in April 2018 due to health concerns.

RELATED: Senator Thad Cochran announces his retirement

Very sad to hear the news on the passing of my friend, Senator Thad Cochran. He was a real Senator with incredible values - even flew back to Senate from Mississippi for important Healthcare Vote when he was desperately ill. Thad never let our Country (or me) down!
President Donald J. Trump
Mississippi and our nation have lost a true statesman in Thad Cochran. He was a legend in the United States Senate where he worked tirelessly to move his state and country forward. He was one of our longest serving senators, and his influence can be felt in every corner of Mississippi. 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. The Quiet Persuader dominated Mississippi politics for nearly half a century, and he did so by being a gentleman. Senator Cochran has left a legacy of public service that should serve as an inspiration for all Americans. I am requesting that flags be flown at half-staff in Mississippi. Deborah and I are praying for the Cochran family during this difficult time.
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant
Thad Cochran was a giant in the United States Senate and one of the greatest champions Mississippi has ever known. He was also a dear personal friend for decades. My wife, Gayle, and I extend our heartfelt condolences to the Cochran family at this time. When Thad Cochran left the Senate, I was reminded of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote, “Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime, and departing leave behind us footprints on the sands of time. Thad Cochran’s footprints are all around us. From his career in the Navy through his retirement in 2018, his life was marked by service to this country. The American economy is experiencing historic growth today in no small part because of the foundations laid by Thad Cochran. Our nation’s military is stronger, groundbreaking federal research continues to advance, our citizens are healthier, and rural and agricultural communities from the Mississippi Delta all across this country are more vibrant. I am grateful and honored to have known him, learned from him, and been his friend. America is a better country because of Thad Cochran.
Senator Roger Wicker
Mississippi has suffered a tremendous loss today. Senator Thad Cochran was an incredible leader and a most respected member of the United States Senate. My colleagues who served with him consistently speak of him with such high regard. 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. Mississippi is a better place because of his leadership that was guided by wisdom and faith. One of my most cherished moments, which I will hold in my heart forever, is playing God Bless America on the piano while he sang it in his Senate office on his last day there. My husband Michael and I send our deepest sympathy to his family at this time.
U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith
I would like to offer my condolences to the family of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran. He was an excellent public servant who understood the necessity of diversity and inclusion. Cochran’s talents will be missed by all Mississippians.
U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson
He was the greatest Ambassador for Mississippi that I have ever known and it’s difficult for me to express how much I will miss him. He was the textbook example of a statesman. Senator Cochran inspired me and countless others to be involved in politics. He taught me the importance of working in a bipartisan manner if you wanted to accomplish great things. He was my friend and mentor, and he made me a better member of Congress. I was blessed to have known him.
U.S. Congressman Gregg Harper
Thad served in the Senate my entire life. He was a patriarch of the Republican Party in Mississippi, and I grew up admiring him as a towering political figure and a gentleman. Although our political differences became apparent, my respect for him remains unchanged. If Heaven has a Senate, I trust Mississippi now holds a key chairmanship. Godspeed, Senator.
Senator Chris McDaniel
One of Mississippi’s greatest public servants passed today. His life’s work is imprinted on each of us through his leadership in education, agriculture, hurricane relief, and his calm approach to the major issues impacting our State and our Country.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann
Senator Thad Cochran is a giant in our state and in our country—a statesman through and through. Anyone who had the privilege of spending time with him knows that his wit and wisdom were unmatched. Elee and I are praying for Kay and the entire Cochran family today. He is at the same time a legend and a truly decent, good man—rare in our line of work. Void of ego and full of life, with friends in every corner of our state. He will always be remembered and sorely missed.
Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves
I am saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Thad Cochran. He devoted his life to serving his state and nation and set the standard of public service that we can all strive towards. He will be remembered for his dedication to the people of Mississippi, and his legacy as a statesman will provide a model of service for our future leaders to follow. While serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, Senator Cochran was a champion for Mississippi. He worked tirelessly for farmers and to promote rural development. He helped strengthen our Armed Forces as Chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and he spearheaded the effort to appropriate much-needed federal assistance to the Mississippi Coast to address the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Mississippi benefited greatly from Senator Cochran’s leadership as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and his legislative abilities. We will continue to enjoy the benefits of his tenure for generations to come. My prayers are with his family during this difficult time and my thoughts are with our entire state as we remember the life of a great Mississippian.
Congressman Michael Guest
Sen. Cochran was a true statesman and served our state with class and distinction. Lisa and I express our condolences to his family and pray for their comfort during this time of loss
Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, Phillip Gunn
My prayers are with the family of Senator Thad Cochran. He was a true public servant, a patriot in every sense of the word. He gave freely of his time and talents to Mississippi and our nation. We have lost a great man with his passing.
Mississippi Treasurer Lynn Fitch
The passing of Senator Thad Cochran is a great loss to our state and our nation. He was a statesman, a gentleman, and a servant leader. He understood the importance of higher education and was a staunch supporter of the university system in his home state. We are forever grateful for this support, which has left an indelible imprint on our universities, the academic experiences our students enjoy, and the research capabilities that seek to improve the lives of Mississippians on many fronts. This is just one of the many legacies of Senator Cochran’s service that will impact generations to come. We extend our sympathies to the Cochran family. He will be greatly missed.
Commissioner of Higher Education, Alfred Rankins, Jr.

Services for the late Senator are pending. Cochran’s family extends its gratitude for the support shown to the Senator by Mississippians over the years.

Thad Cochran’s Story:

Cochran was born December 7, 1937, in Pontotoc, Mississippi to William Holmes Cochran and Emma Grace Cochran.

He and his brother, Nielson, were immersed in academic environments even at young ages. They spent summers at the University of Mississippi as their parents, both educators, earned Master’s Degrees, and also lived at Blue Mountain College where their parents were members of the faculty.

In 1946, the Cochran family moved to the Byram, just outside of Jackson. There was much time devoted to sports, music, the Boy Scouts, and church activities. Thad became an Eagle Scout and helped establish a new scout troop at Spring Ridge Methodist Church. He served as its first Junior Assistant Scout Master.

At Byram High School, Cochran earned varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball, and tennis. He gave a piano and voice recital his senior year, and was class valedictorian. He was also a member of the 4-H Club and Daniel Memorial Baptist Church.

Cochran during his time in the House of Representatives (Source: Wiki Commons)
Cochran during his time in the House of Representatives (Source: Wiki Commons)

As a high school junior and senior, Cochran worked in a variety of after school and weekend jobs. His first regular job was at Gunn’s Dairy Bar where he was a “car hop.” He clerked at Nicholson’s Grocery store, cleared right-of-way for Deviney Construction Company, and helped his father and brother on the family’s cattle farm near Utica.

In 1955, Cochran enrolled in the school of liberal arts at the University of Mississippi. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in psychology and a minor in political science. He was elected president of his social fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, was a company commander in the Navy ROTC, student body vice president, and was selected for membership in Omicron Delta Kappa, a national honorary leadership fraternity.

During the summers, he worked as a life guard at Livingston Lake in Jackson.

When he graduated from Ole Miss in 1959, Cochran was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve and assigned to duty aboard the USS MACON, a heavy cruiser homeported in Boston, Massachusetts. He served on this ship for 18 months becoming the ship’s legal officer after graduating as an honor student from the U.S. Navy School of Justice in Newport, Rhode Island. He also became qualified as Officer of the Deck, in port and underway. When his ship was decommissioned in January 1961, Cochran was assigned to the staff of the Commandant of the Eighth Naval District in New Orleans, Louisiana, to complete his two-year tour of active duty in the Navy.

Cochran with President Ronald Reagan in 1981 (Source: Wiki Commons)
Cochran with President Ronald Reagan in 1981 (Source: Wiki Commons)

In the fall of 1961, Cochran enrolled in the School of Law at the University of Mississippi. While in law school, he won the Frederick Hamel Memorial Award for having the highest scholastic average in the first year class. He was selected for membership in the honorary legal fraternity Phi Delta Phi, served on the editorial board of the Mississippi Law Journal, argued before the Mississippi Supreme Court as a moot court finalist, and was elected chairman of the Honor Council. Before graduating from law school, Cochran was awarded a Rotary Foundation Graduate Fellowship and studied jurisprudence and international law for a year at Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland. During this year abroad, he spoke to numerous Rotary Clubs and other groups in Ireland on the subject of the civil rights struggle in Mississippi and the United States. He also won the Hillary Term Moot Court competition sponsored by the Dublin Law Society. In his final year of law school at Ole Miss, Cochran served as Article Editor of the Mississippi Law Journal and was selected for membership in Phi Kappa Phi, a national honorary scholastic fraternity. Several years later when he delivered the graduation address at the law school, Dean Parham Williams observed that Thad Cochran’s law school grade point average was the third highest of all students who had graduated from the Ole Miss law school during the decade of the 1960s.

During the summer vacation months in the law school years of 1962, ’63, and ’64, Cochran returned to active duty in the Navy and taught military law and naval orientation at the Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve.

After graduating from law school, Cochran joined the firm of Watkins & Eager in Jackson, one of the state’s most respected law firms. He was made a partner in the firm in only two and a half years. Cochran served as president of the Jackson Men’s Y Club, as a member of the board of the Jackson Rotary Club, and a member of the Board of Mississippi Opera, Inc. He organized the first Mississippi chapter of the American Field Service and served as charter president to sponsor foreign exchange programs for high school students.

Senator Thad Cochran Source: WLBT
Senator Thad Cochran Source: WLBT

He was chairman of the Legal Services program of the Jackson Junior Bar, chairman of the Mississippi Law Institute, a continuing legal education program for Mississippi lawyers, and president of the Young Lawyers Division of the Mississippi Bar Association. In 1971, Cochran was named by the Jaycees as Jackson’s Young Man of the Year and as one of the Three Outstanding Young Men of the Year in Mississippi.

Politics and government were subjects of much interest in the Cochran family. As early as 1951, Cochran accompanied his mother as she drove through her hometown of Utica, and helped deliver door to door a campaign tabloid for the Paul B. Johnson, Jr. campaign for Governor. His father was a surrogate in the campaigns of Felder Dearman for Highway Commissioner and Jack Tubb for State Superintendent of Education. Cochran often traveled with his father and helped with voter registration for these campaigns.

Thad Cochran later became active in other political campaigns on his own. He appeared on television for the first time to endorse Fred Thomas for Sheriff of Hinds County in 1967. He was Hinds County Chairman in Brad Dye’s successful race for State Treasurer, and he wrote talking points and issue briefs for Charles Sullivan’s campaign for Governor in 1971. The Presidential campaign of 1968 marked the first time he became involved in a political campaign for a Republican candidate when he served as Executive Director of Mississippi Citizens for Nixon-Agnew.

Sen. Cochran was first elected as U.S. Congressman in 1972, serving Jackson and portions of southwest Mississippi.
Sen. Cochran was first elected as U.S. Congressman in 1972, serving Jackson and portions of southwest Mississippi. (Source: Photo AP File Photo)

In 1972, Cochran was elected United States Congressman for the Fourth District, which included 12 counties in Southwest Mississippi. He was appointed to the House Public Works and Transportation Committee, which had jurisdiction over economic development, transportation and flood control. As a Member of Congress, Cochran also served on a Republican task force to study the energy crisis, and he contributed to the writing of a report that was published in book form by the House Republican Conference. He was appointed later to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct and the Select Committee on Ethics, which wrote a new ethics code for Members of Congress. After winning re-election to the House in 1974, Cochran was elected by his colleagues to represent the Southern states on the House Republican Policy Committee. He was re-elected to the House of Representatives again in 1976. In both of his races for re-election, he received over 70 percent of the votes.

In 1978, Cochran was elected to the United States Senate, becoming the first Republican in more than 100 years to win a statewide election in Mississippi. He was re-elected six more times.

As a member of the Senate, Cochran served as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference; chairman of the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee; and chairman of the Appropriations Committee. He was chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, as well as chairman of its Subcommittee on Defense. He was also chairman of the Committee on Appropriations in the 114th Congress (2015-2016) and the 109th Congress (2005-2006). Senator Cochran was also a senior member on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, having most recently served as its ranking member in the 113th Congress (2013-2014). He served on this panel since being sworn in as a Senator in 1978, and served previously as chairman in the 108th Congress (2003-2004). Finally, Cochran served on the Committee on Rules and Administration. Cochran also served on the Senate Ethics Committee, the Judiciary Committee, the Labor and Human Resources Committee, and the Committee on Indian Affairs. He served on the Joint Committee on the Library, which oversees the activities of the Library of Congress. Service on these committees enabled him to be actively involved in the writing of laws affecting a wide range of issues including rural development, health care, and criminal justice.

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran celebrates the establishment of the Thad Cochran Agricultural Leadership Program (Source: Mississippi State University, 2016)
U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran celebrates the establishment of the Thad Cochran Agricultural Leadership Program (Source: Mississippi State University, 2016)

Cochran had a wide-ranging legislative record that reflected the needs of Mississippi and the nation. A conservative philosophy guided the Senator’s policy decisions. He supported measures to reduce spending, control debt and create an environment that fosters job creation and economic growth in Mississippi and the nation. He was a proponent of measures to maintain a strong national defense. For Mississippi, Cochran maintained a focus throughout his career on promoting economic development and educational opportunity. He sponsored legislation and promoted policies related to rural economic development, including key provisions of several national farm policy bills. Cochran wrote legislation supporting education programs such as teacher training, vocational education, libraries, and educational television. He supported programs to increase educational achievement among disadvantaged children, particularly in rural areas.

Cochran’s leadership and assistance contributed to the funding of various university-based research endeavors. Some of these include: energy, agriculture, and forestry facilities at Mississippi State University; the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials at the University of Southern Mississippi; the National Center for Natural Products Research, the Center for Water and Wetlands Research, and the Food Service Management Institute at the University of Mississippi; the National Warmwater Aquaculture Research Center at Stoneville; and the Jackson Heart Study at Jackson State University, Tougaloo College and the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

The late Senator and the late President George H. W. Bush (Source: Sen. Thad Cochran, Twitter)
The late Senator and the late President George H. W. Bush (Source: Sen. Thad Cochran, Twitter)

He worked toward the placement of a FAA Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Mississippi State University, which leads the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE), a consortium of universities focused on unmanned aircraft systems policies, research and development. The Senator supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities and fought to maintain National Institutes of Health research opportunities for colleges and universities in rural states like Mississippi.

As a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Cochran worked to ensure that the U.S. Armed Forces remained the best trained and equipped in the world, including support for the Navy’s shipbuilding programs and the military bases and installations in Mississippi. Cochran served on the Senate National Security Working Group, the Board of Visitors of the Air Force Academy, the Board at the Military Academy at West Point as chairman, and the Board of Visitors at the U.S. Naval Academy. In 2010, the Senator was presented with the Herbert H. Bateman Award from the American Shipbuilding Association, as well as the Sea Service Award from the Navy League of the United States. In 2013, the Secretary of the Navy bestowed on Cochran the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award.

"Mississippi and our nation have lost a true statesman in Thad Cochran," said Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant in statement (Source: Gov. Bryant)
"Mississippi and our nation have lost a true statesman in Thad Cochran," said Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant in statement (Source: Gov. Bryant)

Cochran effectively used his seniority in the Senate and on the Senate Appropriations Committee to help Mississippi and the nation in the wake of disasters. In 2005, Cochran spearheaded the effort to provide more than $87 billion in supplemental federal assistance to Mississippi and Gulf Coast states devastated by Hurricane Katrina—the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. Cochran used lessons from Hurricane Katrina to coauthor legislation enacted in early 2013 to reform and improve federal disaster recovery activities.

He also helped develop the “RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act” to help Gulf Coast states implement ecological and economic recovery activities following the tragic 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.

"One of my most cherished moments, which I will hold in my heart forever, is playing God Bless America on the piano while he sang it in his Senate office on his last day there." (Source: U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith)
"One of my most cherished moments, which I will hold in my heart forever, is playing God Bless America on the piano while he sang it in his Senate office on his last day there." (Source: U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith)

Cochran was also at the heart of the debate to reauthorize and improve the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). His work on the program’s treatment of levees and other flood control infrastructure dramatically influenced how the NFIP assesses healthy flood control infrastructure. Virtually the entire Mississippi Delta, much of the Jackson metro area and communities along the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway in northeast Mississippi rely on properly-designed and maintained flood control structures. Cochran helped develop, maintain, and improve the Natchez Trace Parkway, the Natchez National Historical Park, the Vicksburg National Military Park and the Gulf Islands National Seashore. In addition, he authored provisions to promote National Park Service efforts to research and preserve sites associated with the Civil Rights Movement.

As ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee in the 113th Congress, Cochran played a pivotal role in helping enact a new, five-year farm bill. The Agricultural Act of 2014 sought to improve and reform federal agricultural policies, while also driving down government spending. The law also consolidated and reformed conservation programs.

This is a developing story.

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