Former Governor Kirk Fordice, 70, died Tuesday morning of leukemia. Friends considered Fordice a true Mississippi success story. The Vicksburg contractor made himself a millionaire. And then he used a legacy of strength, accomplishment and steadfast determination to forge a short but powerful political career.
In 1991, Kirk Fordice shocked Mississippi. He did what no other republican had done in 116 years -- he beat a democrat and became governor. And then Fordice set out to redefine Mississippi as a positive place to live and work.
Kirk Fordice had a tough, no nonsense style that ruffled more than a few feathers. He often went head to head with the legislative black caucus over race issues.
Fordice also had heated confrontations with Attorney General Mike Moore. The governor never liked the attorney general's decision to go after the tobacco industry.
Fordice said in 1996, "When Mike Moore is in Time magazine, nothing else matters. We're off on another publicity binge like we've seen from him over the last several years."
Fordice's candor made him and the republican party more popular in Mississippi. And in 1996, that popularity helped him become the first Mississippi governor to serve a second consecutive term.
He once said, "You may not always agree with me, but you must admit you never have to doubt where I stand on an issue."
Mississippi's economy improved under Fordice. Thanks to spending restraints he supported, and a casino industry he opposed, unemployment dropped under his watch, and business opportunities grew.
When Fordice's political decisions weren't making headlines, his personal life was. Kirk and Pat Fordice had marital problems that became very public. They split up in 1993. But reconciled in 1994.
Then in 1996, the governor had a car wreck that hospitalized him for 25 days. According to media reports, Fordice was in that car, returning from a Memphis visit to a high school sweetheart.
The media caught him with that same woman in 1999, while the governor was returning from a vacation to France. Less than a year later, Kirk and Pat Fordice got a divorce, and he married Ann Creson. Fordice and Creson also divorced.
Health issues also plagued the governor. He battled prostate cancer in both 1993 and 1998. In 2000, he had gallbladder surgery. And last month, he confirmed the leukemia diagnosis that eventually killed him.