Fordice Remembered As Blunt Governor Who Brought Business Style To Government

A son of former Gov. Kirk Fordice eulogized his father Friday as a formidable, courageous man who "loathed phoniness'' and attacked challenges like a lion attacked its prey.

During a funeral at First Baptist Church of Jackson, Dr. Jim Fordice of Nashville said his father was determined to take charge of every situation.

On vacation in Colorado decades ago, when the children were young, the family took a horse ride and Kirk Fordice was on a "wild-eyed white stallion that looked like it had just seen a grizzly,'' Jim Fordice recalled.

"Midway through the ride, Dad's horse freaked out and with wild eyes like dinner plates, he disappeared out of sight in the trees,'' Jim Fordice said. "As he disappeared, our dad, with his eyes equally wild and dinner plate-like, looked back and shouted, 'Control your horses, men. I'll be back to pick you up in a minute.'''

That prompted laughter from the estimated 500 who attended the service in the cavernous sanctuary of First Baptist, across from the state Capitol and near Galloway United Methodist Church, where Fordice was a member.

Among the mourners were Democratic former Govs. Bill Waller, William Winter and Ronnie Musgrove. Several of Fordice's former staff members and appointees also attended.

Fordice died Tuesday of complications of leukemia. He was 70.

The blunt-spoken former Vicksburg contractor was governor from January 1992 to January 2000 - the state's first Republican chief executive in more than 100 years. He was also the first governor to serve back-to-back terms after the state constitution was changed in the 1980s to allow gubernatorial succession.

Current Gov. Haley Barbour, a fellow Republican, said he and Fordice had been friends and political allies since 1968, when Barbour was in charge of 30 Mississippi counties for Richard Nixon's presidential campaign and Fordice was GOP chairman in Warren County.

Barbour fought back tears Friday as he read from a prepared text.

"Forgive me if I keep my head down while I read this, because I don't believe I'll get through it any other way,'' Barbour said.

He said Fordice "brought a commonsense approach to government'' and tried to rein in state spending.

"As an old road contractor, sometimes he seemed to treat the Legislature like a construction crew - with varying degrees of success I might add,'' Barbour said.

He said Fordice was plainspoken and had an attitude of "let the political chips fall where they may.''

"That was Kirk's style,'' Barbour said. "The media skewered it, the legislators detested it and the people loved it.''

Country musician Marty Stuart, a Mississippi native, played a mandolin medley in the church.

Fordice's coffin had spent most of Thursday in the rotunda of the state Capitol for viewing by the public. About 1,000 people passed by the casket, draped in an American flag.

Some of the same Highway Patrol officers who guarded Fordice as governor accompanied the Fordice family, led by his former wife Pat, into the church on Friday.

Fordice had made his home in Madison since leaving office and was buried in Parkway Memorial Cemetery in Madison County.

At the cemetery, a National Guard unit performed a 19-gun salute and four pilots from a flying club Fordice had belonged to flew over in a missing-man formation.

Fordice's black Labrador retriever, Lance, was at the cemetery.

Highway patrolmen placed carnations on the casket and some mourners left tiny American flag or Mississippi flag lapel pins. Pat Fordice placed her gold wedding band among the flowers to be buried.

The couple divorced in 2000 after 44 years of marriage, and he had a three-year marriage to his high school sweetheart, Ann Creson, that ended in 2003.

Friends and family said Pat Fordice helped care for the former governor during his final weeks of life.

He is survived by three sons, a daughter and several grandchildren.

Fordice was a Vicksburg construction company executive and longtime Republican Party insider when he first ran for governor in 1991. He defeated Democratic Gov. Ray Mabus that year and won re-election in 1995 over Secretary of State Dick Molpus.

Fordice was an avid sportsman and frequently went on safari in Africa.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)