Former Mississippi first lady Pat Fordice, ex-wife of the state's first Republican governor in modern times and a tireless campaigner for several charity causes, died Thursday morning at her home in Madison, Miss., after battling cancer. She was 72. The cause of death was not immediately announced.
Fordice said in December that she had cancer. She had declined to be interviewed about her treatment and would not say what kind of cancer she had.
Family spokeswoman Stacey Hight told The Associated Press that arrangements are pending.
Hight said Fordice was surrounded by family at the time of her death at 1:30 a.m. She is survived by four children and many grandchildren.
Fordice's ex-husband, Kirk Fordice, served as governor from 1992 to 2000. The Fordices divorced in 2000 after 44 years of marriage. Kirk Fordice died of leukemia in 2004 at age 70.
Republican state Rep. Rita Martinson, of Madison, said Pat Fordice would be remembered for her family values and integrity.
Martinson said Fordice was "one of the 'Steel Magnolias' that you hear about who stood by her principles at times when other people may have buckled."
In November 2005, Fordice resigned as the city of Jackson's interim head of human and cultural services. At the time, Fordice said the full-time job was more demanding than she believed she could handle.
Pat Fordice was co-host of a program on Mississippi Public Broadcasting. She also appeared in a series of commercials for Keep Mississippi Beautiful and the Mississippi Department of Transportation as part of its anti-littering campaign.
Reaction to the news:
"Pat Fordice was the most elegant and gracious first lady Mississippi has ever seen. When she was first lady, she used the resources of that office to promote the mission of Keep Mississippi Beautiful. She was always willing to do whatever she could to improve the lives of Mississippians who she loved so well," said Barbara Dorr, executive director of Keep Mississippi Beautiful.
"Pat Fordice served as Mississippi's first lady with grace and refinement. Her unwavering strength encouraged Mississippians to persevere during difficult circumstances. Regal yet approachable, she possessed a natural Southern elegance that transcended her term and endeared her to our hearts," said U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering.
"Pat was the most gracious of ladies, the perfect hostess, Mississippi's star Goodwill Ambassador and truly one of the most admired and respected first ladies to ever grace the Governor's Mansion. Pat Fordice's passing leaves a large void in all that is good and representative of Mississippi," said state auditor Phil Bryant.
The following statement was released by Gov. Haley Barbour:
“Pat Fordice was a model First Lady. She represented our state with
strength, dignity, and grace. As a respected ambassador for Mississippi,
Pat became a symbol for making the state a better place. Her compassion
and leadership served as an inspiration to those who knew her, and she
will be missed. We also lost two other great women with the passing of former First Lady Zelma Finch and Lady Bird Johnson, both of whom made outstanding contributions to public service. This has certainly been a difficult
week for Mississippians as well as Americans, and Marsha and I hope you
will join us in keeping these unique ladies and their families in our
thoughts and prayers.”
“Pat Fordice was more than our first lady," said U.S. Sen. Trent Lott. "She was the embodiment of kindness, grace and spirit who never shied away from a challenge, either to her state or herself, and made us all proud to be Mississippians. We remember her commitment to promoting Mississippi and her tireless advocacy for those who needed a hand. As we keep the Fordice family in our prayers, we join all Mississippians in celebrating her legacy and inspiration.”