McConnell Remarks on the Retirement of Senator Thad Cochran

'He departs with our warmest wishes. We will miss our "great persuader." We will miss our loyal friend. We stand with Mississippians and a grateful nation in honoring the service of Senator Thad Cochran.'

WASHINGTON, D.C.  U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding the retirement of Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS):

"When I learned that our distinguished colleague from Mississippi would be retiring this month, I found it difficult to imagine the Senate without him. That’s for good reason. Thad Cochran arrived here in 1978. Two-hundred fifty-four senators have since followed in his footsteps.

“Of those currently serving, ninety-seven of us are newer at this than Thad is. And every single one of us has been treated to a first-rate example of honorable service. A master class in the art of legislation. And living proof that unwavering principle and unflappable collegiality can, and should, coexist. We all know Thad has a knack for making things look easy. So many graces and talents seem second nature to him.

“But appearances can be deceiving. Take the start of his political career. When you think about it, it’s only natural that Senator Cochran liked to work on conservation issues. I expect his adventures as a Mississippi Republican in the early 1970s helped him understand just what it feels like to be an endangered species.

“In 1972, Thad was a rising-star attorney when he was asked to try and become just the second GOP Congressman from his state since Reconstruction. The possibility seemed so remote that when he asked Rose how she’d like being married to a Congressman, she replied, ‘I don’t know – which one?’ Long odds indeed. But true to form, Thad won in the end – and again, and again. And then he became the first Republican Senator from Mississippi in a century.

“It’s safe to say service is in Thad’s DNA. Both his parents were devoted educators. His father, W.H., served as superintendent of a large, rural public school district. His mother Emma was a pioneering mathematics teacher who wrote new curricula. And in Pontotoc, Mississippi, their two boys grew up with a healthy appreciation for the power of good schooling.

“Thad graduated as high school valedictorian. Then came a Naval commission, and then law school, where he graduated at the top of his class. But no amount of success could take the kindness and courtesy out of this quintessential Southern gentleman. A deep respect for others is Thad’s calling card. Just a few weeks after he arrived in Washington, Thad brought his staff together. He said, quote, ‘We’re going to treat everyone the same. We’re here to find answers for everyone, even if they disagree with us. We’re here to serve the people of Mississippi.’

“Even at a time when the wounds of segregation were still raw, he made it clear this meant all Mississippians. In fact, he hired the first African-American congressional staffer to work in a Mississippi office since Reconstruction, Nehemiah Flowers. And for all his staff, Thad took the time to pen a detailed memo, laying out high expectations for serving constituents and treating everyone with dignity

“That temperament led to a litany of accomplishments. Mississippians knew that in Thad, they had a ‘quiet persuader’ – a steady workhorse and dogged advocate who almost never made a fuss, but almost always made a difference. Indeed, the policy achievements of this mighty Appropriations chairman are so numerous as to defy easy summary.

“I know this schoolteacher’s son is particularly proud of his work on education. Senator Cochran carried the banner for research partnerships that raised the profile of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He delivered critical funding to expand scholarship access. He spearheaded the Delta Education Initiative.  He inspired the Cochran Fellows program, which has changed the lives of more than seventeen thousand agriculture professionals from around the world.

“It is no exaggeration to say that Thad Cochran’s work has broadened the horizons of millions. But it didn’t stop there. There were landmark bipartisan bills like the Cochran-Inouye National Missile Defense Act.  There’s his partnership with his dear friend Senator Leahy on the Farm to School program. The list just keeps going.”

“When he first ran for Senate in 1978, Thad’s stump speech included a line that Mississippians deserved a Senator who would work ‘full-time’ for them. They certainly got one. Thad didn’t come to Washington to curry favor, win praise, or hog the limelight.

“When I say he preferred making a difference to making a fuss, I really mean it. This man served in the Senate for seven terms and only appeared on ‘Meet the Press’ twice. No, Thad had other business to attend to. He spent his thirty-nine years in this body working full-time for students and educators. Full-time for farmers and ranchers. Full-time to deliver funding for our brave servicemembers and our veterans who’ve returned home.

“It is rare, even in the halls of government, to meet someone as influential as Senator Thad Cochran. It is even rarer to meet someone as kind, as even-tempered, as concerned for the welfare of others. And it’s almost unheard of that the same man would be both. That’s just who Thad is.

“He wrote the book on composure under pressure. He served as the careful custodian of billions of taxpayer dollars without losing an ounce of humility. On the Senate floor and in committee, he tackled heated debates and complicated legislative challenges with true servant leadership. On the tennis court, by all accounts, he offered his colleagues a different and altogether less hospitable sort of ‘service.’ But true to form, I hear Thad always combined winning and graciousness. He’s certainly had enough practice at both.

“From Pontotoc, Mississippi to the Senate floor, Thad Cochran’s story has grown – but it hasn’t changed. It’s a story about putting others first. It’s about doing the right thing, every step of the way. It’s a story that will continue to teach and inspire those of us who now must carry on our work without him.

“I know Thad’s devoted staff are sorry to see him go. Their allegiance to him, famous throughout the Senate, is further testimony to his own principled professionalism. This is exemplified by nobody quite so well as Doris Wagley, Senator Cochran’s personal secretary, who’s served Thad ever since 1973 when he was first sworn in as a Congressman. She’d planned to take a job for just a year or so, and then reassess. Enough said. She, along with all of Sen. Cochran’s excellent staff, have our admiration and gratitude.

“I would particularly like to thank two men who have led teams in service to Mississippi and Senator Cochran so well – Brad White, his Chief of Staff, and Bruce Evans, his longtime staff director on the Appropriations Committee. I am grateful for their hard work on behalf of the Senate. I know the early mornings and late nights were many – including just these last weeks.

“Thad’s friends know that retirement will allow him more happy times with his wife, Kay; his beloved children, Clayton and Kate; and the three grandchildren he adores. He departs with our warmest wishes.  We will miss our ‘great persuader.’ We will miss our loyal friend. We stand with Mississippians and a grateful nation in honoring the service of Senator Thad Cochran.”

Related Issues: Tributes