Former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran passes away at 81

Published 12:03 pm Thursday, May 30, 2019

One of Mississippi’s longest-serving United States senators passed away on Thursday. Thad Cochran died peacefully at a veteran’s nursing home in Oxford, per a release sent out Thursday morning. Cochran was 81 years old.

A native of Pontotoc, Cochran represented Mississippi in Congress for more than 45 years before retiring in April of 2018. Cochran was elected to the U.S. House in 1972 and when he won his first Senate election in 1978, Cochran became the first Republican since Reconstruction to win statewide office in Mississippi. He was re-elected six times and served seven terms.

“I appreciate the opportunity to express my deep gratitude for the honor given to me by the people of Mississippi to represent them in Washington,” Cochran’s farewell to the Senate read. “I will now return to my beloved Mississippi and my family and friends there. I will miss this stately Chamber and this city. I will not miss this power or politics. I will miss the people.”

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Cochran enrolled in the school of liberal arts at the University of Mississippi in 1955 and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in psychology and a minor in political science. Upon graduating in 1959, Cochran was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve and assigned to duty aboard the U.S.S. Macon, a heavy cruiser that was ported in Boston. In 1961, he enrolled at the University of Mississippi’s School of Law.

During his time in the U.S. Congress, Cochran was a major force in bringing billions of dollars in funding to his home state. He helped bring more than $100 billion in funding to help the Gulf Coast in recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“Thad Cochran was a giant in the United States senate and one of the greatest champions Mississippi has ever known,” U.S. Senator Roger Wicker said in a statement released by his office on Thursday. “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. …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.”

As a member of Congress, Cochran served on a Republican task force to study the energy crisis, and contributed to a report published in book form by the House Republican Conference. On March 2, 2017 he was recognized as the tenth longest-serving Senator in United States history.

Cochran served as a lawyer, working at the firm of Watkins & Eager in Jackson following graduation from law school and was heavily involved with the Lafayette County Republicans throughout his political career.

“Thad Cochran was a statesman who believed in the service aspect of public service,” Brad Mayo, chairman of Lafayette County Republican Executive Committee, told the EAGLE. “He spent his time working to better the lives of Mississippians and Americans and not drawing attention to himself. We are better and thankful for his service. We are glad that Senator Cochran was able to spend peaceful time at the end of his life in Lafayette County.”

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has requested flags be flown at half-staff throughout the state.

“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,” Bryant stated in a release from his office on Thursday.

In a statement on Twitter, President Donald Trump noted Cochran as a “real Senator with incredible values.”

Cochran is survived by his three children and three grandchildren. Service arrangements have not been announced at this time.