Flags will fly at half-staff through Sept. 10 in memory of former Gov. Kirk Fordice who died Tuesday at the age of 70. He had suffered complications from leukemia.
Fordice had a successful business career as a contractor in Vicksburg before entering politics. When Meridian's own Gil Carmichael ran for governor and again for the Senate, Fordice helped him raise money and find volunteer workers.
"He was a campaign fundraiser for me and a real fighter," said Carmichael. "And I was real tickled and pleased with his administration. He was 'tell it like it is.' Mississippi people like that."
In 1992, Fordice, against the odds, ran and won, upsetting the Incumbent Ray Mabus. He was reelected in 1996, becoming the first Mississippi governor to succeed himself.
"I hope they remember him as one of the Republican pioneers," Carmichael said. "He was the first Republican elected in the last century which was a major milestone. He was a very outspoken person. You always knew where Kirk was. He didn't play games with you. If he was with you fine. If he was against you, you knew it."
Fordice confirmed in August he had been diagnosed with leukemia but would not say what type he had. In 1993 he had been treated for prostate cancer. In 1998 the cancer returned and he underwent additional radiation treatment. Then in July 2000 Fordice had gall bladder surgery.
Newscenter 11 last talked to the former governor at the inauguration for Haley Barbour and asked if he thought Mississippi had changed since he was in office. It was apparent Fordice himself had not changed.
"I don't think there's been any turnaround at all. It's just that a hard-rock conservative like me can expect daily insults from the liberal media and that's what I got and I went right ahead and did my job anyway," said Fordice on Jan. 13, 2004.
Some of Fordice's accomplishments as governor:
- He returned the state to fiscal integrity.
- He got a law passed eliminating the marriage tax penalty.
- He established a crime victims bill of rights.
- He emphasized accountability in education.
- He was the only Mississippi governor in the 20th century elected to two consecutive four-year terms.
As residents statewide reflected on the life and legacy of the former governor, some Meridian residents remembered working closely with him.
"He just called a spade, a spade," said Gene Bryan, recalling Fordice's blunt style. "He didn't try to flower things up . He was Kirk Fordice everywhere you saw him."
In the early 1990s, Bryan said he opened the first campaign office for Fordice in Meridian.
"At the time I really didn't know that there were any Republicans in the area," Bryan said, crediting Fordice for changing that.
"His legacy will be that he finally put the Republican Party, you might say, on the map in Mississippi," said Sally Brown, chairperson of the Lauderdale County Republican Party, which was active in Fordice's second run for office.
Brown said one of Fordice's strongest qualities was his speaking ability, especially at events such as the Neshoba County Fair.
"I remember one in particular about wanting to a take a particular person out behind the barn and maybe give them a good whipping," she laughed. "Just being himself!"
However, it's also that outspokenness, which up until the end, Bryan said, sometimes created some sticking points for the former governor, even with those closest to him.
"I started to go by several times, but I think I kind of upset Kirk in that I disagreed with what happened in his family life, but he never stopped loving his wife," said Bryan, referring to former first lady Pat Fordice.
While in office Fordice did have differences, especially with Democrats and the media. However, no matter what, all would probably agree that Fordice will go down as one of the most memorable governors in the state's history.
There will be a public viewing of the body in the capitol rotunda from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. visitation will follow from 7:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. at Wright and Ferguson Funeral Home in Jackson. Friday services will be 10:00 a.m. at First Baptist Church of Jackson.