Leader McConnell Remembers Senator Thad Cochran
‘Gracious. Generous. Always with his home state and his fellow Mississippians at the top of his mind and deep in his heart. Today, at the State Capitol in Jackson, Mississippians gathered to return the favor. Thad Cochran is at the top of their minds. He is deep in their hearts. And most importantly, our friend is on his way to a just reward in his Father’s house.’
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding the passing of friend and colleague, Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS):
“On Thursday morning, we received sad news out of Oxford, Mississippi. Our friend and distinguished former colleague Senator Thad Cochran had passed away. Thad took retirement a little more than a year ago to focus on his health and family. That day concluded a truly remarkable career in the history of the United States Senate. Seven terms. Nearly four decades. The second-longest serving Senator for Mississippi — and the 10th-longest serving Senator, period, in American history.
“To put it all another way -- when Senator Cochran first arrived in 1978, only one of our current colleagues was here to witness it. The other 99 of us are all newer at this job than Thad was. Now, such a storied career was far from guaranteed when Thad decided to give politics a try in the early 1970s. I’ve always enjoyed the story about his very first run for Congress.
“Remember, Mississippi had only had one other Republican Congressman since Reconstruction. So when this young rising-star lawyer asked Rose how she might like being married to a Congressman, here was her response: ‘I don’t know, which one?’ But if Thad’s presence here in Congress at one point seemed improbable, it quickly became difficult to imagine Capitol Hill without him.
“His fruitful career produced a huge number of legislative accomplishments and a sterling reputation as a thoughtful, measured, and effective leader. He chaired the Appropriations Committee, the Agriculture Committee, and the Republican Conference. He was at once a powerful force within our ranks and a trusted friend and partner to many of our friends across the aisle, as well.
“In just the past few days, the authors of eulogies and tributes have enjoyed noting all the ways that Thad seemed to embody a whole region and era, as though he’d come right out of central casting. One obituary talked up the ‘traditional catfish fries,’ ‘homespun politics,’ and ‘Southern charm.’ Another newspaper described his ‘Southern gentility’ as a ‘courtly’ and ‘understated style,’ seeming to suggest that approach was at odds with his impressive and powerful perch. It’s true that, over seven terms in this body, Chairman Cochran only appeared on “Meet the Press” twice.
“To say he did not crave a national spotlight would be an understatement. He was just too busy racking up progress for the people of Mississippi and for the country. Busy managing the appropriations process. Busy finding new ways to elevate Historically Black Colleges and Universities with scholarship opportunities, research grant funding, and new initiatives. Busy working across the aisle on matters of national security, like the bipartisan Cochran-Inouye National Missile Defense Act. Busy using his voice to champion the concerns of farmers and rural communities -- clearing obstacles on commodity pricing and wetlands conservation.
“Thad was so confident in American agriculture that he used it as a tool for international development. Now overseas farm delegations learn U.S. techniques firsthand through the Cochran Fellowship Program. But as much as the long list of achievements continued to grow, Thad Cochran’s character and his values stayed steady.
“So Thad may not have followed his schoolteacher parents into the education business, but he sure did take us to school. His colleagues learned firsthand that a dogged work ethic and compassionate friendship are not incompatible here. His constituents learned that their ‘quiet persuader’ kept his promises. And the nation learned from a first-rate example of humility and grace in public service.
“So while we mourn that we no longer have our friend Thad in this life, we should also celebrate all those lessons he taught us. And celebrate the fact that they aren’t going anywhere. On Thad’s last day in the Senate, he left us with a remarkable farewell statement. In it, he noted that John Stennis, another long-tenured Mississippian, had previously used Thad’s desk and had signed it, per Senate custom. But while Senator Stennis had noted his start date, in 1947, he never wrote down any end date on the other side of the dash.
“‘Perhaps there is symbolism there,’ Thad wrote in his farewell, ‘that our service does not end when we depart this Chamber.’ Isn’t that the truth, when it comes to Thad Cochran. His legacy and his example are part of this place for good. His impact continues. His service still inspires all of us.
“I want to close, with reference to one more part of Thad’s farewell. Here are his very last words in the Congressional Record, the capstone to 45 years of statesmanship: ‘I will now return to my beloved Mississippi and my family and friends there. I will miss this stately Chamber and this city. I will not miss this power or politics. I will miss people: you, my colleagues…
“‘[And] I trust, if your travels bring you to Oxford, Mississippi, you will not hesitate to visit and join me for a refreshment on the porch. We can listen to the mockingbirds together.’ That was our colleague. Gracious. Generous. Always with his home state and his fellow Mississippians at the top of his mind and deep in his heart.
“Today, at the State Capitol in Jackson, Mississippians gathered to return the favor. Thad Cochran is at the top of their minds. He is deep in their hearts. And most importantly, our friend is on his way to a just reward in his Father’s house. So the Senate today sends our condolences and our prayers to Thad’s wife Kay, and his two children Clayton and Kate, and his grandchildren and many, many friends. And we stand together in remembering our good friend.”
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