Media advisory: Cochran leaves lasting legacy at University of Mississippi

OXFORD, Miss. – On Thursday, May 30, 2019, former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran passed away in Oxford.

Cochran, a UM alumnus, was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1972, and in 1978, he began a nearly 40-year career in the U.S. Senate – many of those years serving as the longtime chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a powerful and coveted post on Capitol Hill.

Time magazine dubbed the Pontotoc native “The Quiet Persuader” for his polite manner and knack for consensus building. He retired April 1, 2018 as the 10th longest serving senator in American history. 

Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks said Cochran was an excellent representative of an Ole Miss graduate and a true statesman.

“We will always be indebted to Sen. Cochran for his countless contributions to our institution, our state, and our country,” said Sparks. “His life of service and dedication should serve as a benchmark to us all. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this time.”

Cochran majored in psychology and minored in political science at Ole Miss, and was the head cheerleader and a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society. After graduation, he served in the U.S. Navy and later returned to campus to earn his law degree.

In 1978, the young congressman won an election to replace longtime U.S. Sen. James O. Eastland, who had retired. While he served in the Senate, Cochran held many leadership roles and journalists praised him for his focus on getting things done, rather than playing politics.

He was re-elected to the Senate six times.

Hurricane Katrina, often called the worst natural disaster in American history, hit in 2005 while Cochran was chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He was greatly affected by touring the devastation and vowed after seeing it to get whatever resources needed to help the Gulf Coast recover. 

He shaped the recovery of Mississippi and other devastated Gulf Coast states by using consensus building and bipartisanship to lead an initially hesitant Congress to offer an unprecedented $29 billion relief package. The funds included more than $5 billion in discretionary U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds for Mississippi to help devastated homeowners. Those funds helped affected states recover from widespread damage to public and private property, the likes of which the country hadn’t seen before.

The senator played a central role in the late 1980s in securing federal funding for UM’s Thad Cochran Research Center, home of the National Center for Natural Products Research. This center is the only university-affiliated research center devoted to improving human health and agricultural productivity through the discovery, development and commercialization of pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals derived from natural products.

The program began operations in 1995 and has held decades-long partnerships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. The Thad Cochran Research Center West Wing was dedicated in 2015.

Cochran was also a strong advocate for numerous other campus research programs, which addressed many national needs, especially in national defense and agriculture. Those programs have helped UM become more competitive in securing research funding and have helped it earn the designation of being a Carnegie R1 Highest Research Activity institution, the highest ranking a university can attain in the Carnegie classification.

In May 2018, UM honored former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran with its Mississippi Humanitarian Award, which is presented only rarely to exceptional figures who have played a major role in shaping the state. He was the fourth recipient of the award since its creation in 2001.

In June 2018, it was announced that Cochran’s papers will be donated to the university’s Modern Political Archives. The donation will include 3,500 linear feet of documents and nearly 6 terabytes of digital files that offer insight into some of the nation’s most significant political events over the past 45 years.

In October 2018, the university announced the establishment of the Thad Cochran Endowment at the School of Law, which will provide scholarship opportunities for future students. Through the Cochran Endowment scholarships, Mississippi residents who are community-oriented law students dedicated to service and cultural development will be able to earn Ole Miss degrees.  

In April 2019, UM installed a portrait of Cochran in the university’s Thad Cochran Research Center. The portrait commemorated his service to Mississippi and his longstanding support for the university and its research enterprise.

A visitation will be held Sunday, June 2, 2019, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at The University of Mississippi Robert C. Khayat Law Center (481 Chucky Mullins Drive, Oxford, MS 38655). A funeral service will be held Monday, June 3, 2019, at 11 a.m. at the Mississippi State Capitol (400 High St., Jackson, MS 39201). Another funeral service will be held Tuesday, June 4, 2019, at 11 a.m. at Northminster Baptist Church (3955 Ridgewood Road, Jackson, MS 39211). Coleman Funeral Home of Oxford is in charge of arrangements.  Click here for a full obituary.