Obituary – William Thad Cochran

Published 1:04 pm Friday, May 31, 2019

The Honorable William Thad Cochran, 81, longtime U.S. Senator from Mississippi, died on Thursday, May 30, 2019, after a period of declining health.

When Cochran stepped down from the U.S. Senate last year due to health concerns, he was celebrated by Senate colleagues, constituents, and friends as one of the last exemplars of reserve and acumen in the Congress, earning the title “the Quiet Persuader” from Time magazine in their 2006 story on Cochran as one of the Ten Best Senators. His willingness to work across the aisle and commitment to making headway rather than headlines consistently characterized his forty-five years of Congressional service.

Thad Cochran was born in Pontotoc, Mississippi, on December 7, 1937. His father, high school principal and later Hinds County School Superintendant William Holmes Cochran, and mother, math teacher Emma Grace Cochran, modeled for him lives dedicated to public service. Growing up mostly in the small town of Byram, Mississippi, Cochran was an Eagle Scout, member of the 4-H, and high school valedictorian and student-athlete. While earning his undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Mississippi, he was president of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, vice president of the student body, company commander in the Navy ROTC, and head cheerleader. He served on the USS MACON prior to entering law school at the University of Mississippi, where he was selected for membership in Phi Delta Phi, the editorial board of the Mississippi Law Journal, and chairman of the Honor Council. He studied international law for one year at Trinity College Dublin, on a Rotary Foundation Graduate Fellowship.

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Cochran’s early career was spent in the capital city of Jackson, Mississippi. After graduating Ole Miss law school in 1964, he married Rose Clayton of New Albany, Mississippi, and joined the firm of Watkins & Eager, making partner in under three years. During that time, he served as chairman of the Mississippi Law Institute, lawyer’s chairman for the Heart Fund and United Givers Fund, president of the Young Lawyers Division of the Mississippi Bar Association, board member of the Jackson Rotary Club, and chairman of the Legal Services program of the Jackson Junior Bar. Cochran became involved in local and statewide campaigns for various candidates and ultimately served as executive director of Mississippi Citizens for Nixon-Agnew in 1968. Four years later, Cochran was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the Fourth District of the state. In both of his subsequent re-elections, he received over 70 percent of the vote.

In 1978, Cochran successfully ran for the U.S. Senate, becoming the first Republican in over 100 years to win statewide election in Mississippi. As in the House of Representatives, his interests in the Senate reflected issues crucial to Mississippi: education, agriculture, economic development, and defense. His authorship of legislation helped to support initiatives in teacher training, adult literacy, wilderness protection, shipbuilding, military bases, and farm programs, as did his distinguished service as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. His support of Mississippi following the devastation of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina was particularly impressive.

Cochran is often referred to as a statesman, exhibiting the virtues of patience, integrity, and compassion while at the same time employing both his wealth of accumulated knowledge and his native rationality to lead his decisions. A devoted father, husband, music lover, tennis player, and friend, he leaves a legacy of public service that it was his genuine pleasure to perform.

Cochran is survived by his wife, the former Kay Bowen Webber; one brother, Nielsen Harris Cochran of Jackson, Mississippi; two children, Thaddeus Clayton Cochran of New Albany, and Katherine Holmes Cochran of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and three grandchildren.

A visitation will be held Sunday, June 2, 2019, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at The University of Mississippi Robert C. Khayat Law Center (481 Chucky Mullins Dr., Oxford, MS 38655). A funeral service will be held Monday, June 3, 2019, at 11 a.m., with a visitation immediately following until 6 p.m., at the Mississippi State Capitol (400 High St., Jackson, MS 39201). Another funeral service will be held Tuesday, June 4, 2019, at 11 a.m. at Northminster Baptist Church (3955 Ridgewood Rd., Jackson, MS 39211). Coleman Funeral Home of Oxford is in charge of arrangements.

In lieu of customary remembrances, the family requests with gratitude that memorial contributions in Senator Cochran’s name be directed to the donor’s choice of the Thad Cochran Law Scholarship at The University of Mississippi (406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655), The Nourishing Place (P.O. Box 7785, Gulfport, MS 39506), or Northminster Baptist Church (3955 Ridgewood Rd., Jackson, MS 39211).

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