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Thad reminded us to search for common good

Draped in black mourning cloth, a life-sized portrait of Senator Thad Cochran sitting in a favorite chair looked as if he was gazing over the packed Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson Tuesday morning. The painting was almost haunting in the determined look on the face of a state and national leader who dedicated his life to his beloved Mississippi and his country. Haunting because the determined look reflected his uncanny ability to make colleagues, who might disagree, to change their minds to his way of thinking.

Thad Cochran, with his Southern Gentleman charm, was very good at persuading others to see his point of view. As the 10th longest serving United States Senator in this country’s history, he was respected across not only Mississippi but across the nation regardless of party affiliation. He left Mississippi not only better but so too the nation.

He was one of those individuals who did not need a last name. Say Thad and everyone knew exactly whom you meant. His campaign signs and bumper stickers over the years reflected such, as they usually just said “Thad!”

Lincoln County and Brookhaven had long and deep ties with Thad through his deep friendship with the late Alvin Smith, Chuck Nelms and so many others including Jim Elliot and the late Jimmy Moreton. It was in 1972 that he won his first election to the then Fourth Congressional District. Lincoln County has always laid claim to putting him over the top in a tight race with Democrat State Senator Ellis Bodron of Vicksburg. In fact, Cochran won only three counties in the district that night. The Lincoln County returns came in late that evening, sealing the victory over a popular state senator. It was an election victory that night that launched a career spanning 46 years; first in the U.S. House of Representatives; then in 1978 the U.S. Senate where he would among other things become the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Thad never forgot Brookhaven and Lincoln County. When he resigned his seat for health reasons last year, it is only fitting that our own Cindy Hyde-Smith was appointed to fill his shoes — not because she was from Lincoln County but because of her own ability to pull opposing sides together. She, of course, won the seat outright this past November.

He was named by Time Magazine “the Quiet Persuader” in 2006 in their story about the Top 10 United States senators, but unfortunately, his style of politics, which has become a lost art in the vicious political world we live in today, has disappeared. Thad could and would reach across the political aisle to find solutions. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama who spoke Tuesday morning, with a tear in his eye, called him a Senator’s Senator and one of the last of his kind. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who also spoke, may have said it best as his voice cracked saying, “He showed friendship and respect regardless of political view… Thad understood that compromise is vital for a democracy to work.”

The expression on that black mourning cloth-draped portrait of Thad seemed for a moment to change to that familiar broad smile we all knew, as Sen. Leahy finished his comments. Thad well understood the importance of people putting aside differences for the common good. He did it so well for so many years — Mississippi and our nation is better for Thad’s efforts to make our democracy work.

Maybe that haunting determined look in his portrait was chosen by him as his way of reminding the rest of us to put aside our own political differences and to search for the common good. After all, that is what originally made America great.

Bill Jacobs is former publisher of The Daily Leader.