Local friends, colleagues remember Cochran as champion of Natchez, Adams County

Published 11:30 pm Thursday, May 30, 2019

NATCHEZ — Friends and colleagues of former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, who died Thursday morning in Oxford at the age of 81, remembered him Thursday as a man who was committed to Mississippi and was a great champion of Natchez and Adams County.

“Senator Cochran was a true statesman,” said Natchez Mayor, Darryl Grennell. “He was a true friend to the city of Natchez.”

Grennell said Cochran played an instrumental role in securing funds for various infrastructure projects, including his advocacy for the North Natchez Drainage project, improving city roads and more recently securing federal support the transfer of ownership of the Natchez Visitor and Reception Center from the city to the National Park Service.

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“He always came through for both the city and the county,” Grennell said. “I am so glad that I had the opportunity to visit with him about two weeks before he left office. He would always say to me how much he loved Natchez. I can tell you on behalf of the citizens that he will truly be missed. …

“Even before he was a senator, he helped this city as a congressman. … Even when he switched parties from Democrat to Republican, he always carried Adams County by a majority. He was a friend to Adams County and people would cross party lines to support him.”

Former Mayor Larry “Butch” Brown said the list of projects Cochran helped orchestrate for Natchez is “virtually endless.”

“It’s overwhelming what that man did for us while he was in both the house and the U.S. Senate,” Brown said. “He was a champion for our National Park efforts. I started working with him as a private citizen on the Bluff Stabilization project. We started in 1980 walking the bluff, and I’ll never forget it. He says, ‘You know, Butch, one thing that has got to happen up here. This water is going over the top of the bluff and it ought to be coming back to the city sewers.’ He says, ‘As long as it is going over the top of the bluff, it is going to erode.’”

Brown said Cochran had the project approved with the U.S. Corps of Engineers and had it funded every step of the way.

“That’s a project that was bought and paid for when it was finished,” Brown said. “The same thing happened with the Natchez Visitor and Reception Center. The last $750,000 came in the day we cut the ribbon. (Cochran) was there, sitting in the hot sun in July. It was miserable, but he was there.”

Brown said Cochran could be credited for changing the face of Natchez and the areas surrounding it, with the upkeep of the Natchez City Cemetery as well as the addition of the United States Courthouse on Pearl Street and the Saint Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

Brown said he already misses Cochran not just for his legacy in the city of Natchez, but also as a close friend.

“He was a senator, he was a diplomat, he was a gentleman and he was highly respected by all of his colleagues. …” Brown said. “I just don’t know what we’ll ever do without him. … I don’t know what this city’s landscape would be without Thad Cochran.”

Chandler Russ, executive director of Natchez Inc., said he also remembers Cochran as a champion for Natchez and Adams County.

“He would tell the story about his first run for Congress,” Russ said. “He carried Adams County, and it was what he attributed to him getting into Congress the first time. He carried Adams County — was one of the few Republicans to carry Adams County — every election for the past 20 years. That speaks to his ability to do things and to work across party lines.”

Russ said Cochran was instrumental in securing funding for numerous projects in Natchez and Adams County, including the Belwood Levee and the bluff stabilization project.

“The bluff stabilization project was before my time, but it is definitely there because of Sen. Cochran,” Russ said. “Overall, any federal legislation or funding that had to come out of DC during his tenure, he was our go-to guy.”

Russ said Cochran’s position on the Senate Appropriations Committee helped the area gain funding for roads and bridges.

“He was always a strong supporter and champion for our area,” Russ said. “He was a good friend and a true statesman and throughout our entire career he was our go-to person for assistance. He and his staff had always been good allies.”

Walter Brown, former attorney for the City of Natchez, said Cochran helped make Natchez what it is today.

“He was actually in the House … in transition from the House to the Senate … when we got the bridge started in the ’70s — the new bridge — I still call it the new bridge — … and we did an interstate compact that the legislature passes the compact first in Mississippi and then they passed it in Louisiana and the United States Senate, and he was very instrumental in that along with Sen. (John C. ) Stennis at that time.”

Walter Brown said he was a classmate of Cochran’s at Ole Miss.

“Thad was … clearly destined for great things even back then,” Walter Brown said. “He was probably the best friend we ever had in the United States Congress, comparable to John Stennis, I would say. He was a moderate Republican, a rare commodity in this day.”

Brown said the list of Mississippi projects Cochran helped secure funding for during his tenure in the United States House and Senate is immeasurable.

“He was especially good to the State of Mississippi on such projects like Katrina, when Katrina hit and also particularly at the local level,” Walter Brown said. “He and Butch Brown and Trent Lott are mainly responsible for the building of the bluffs stabilization that took place in the ’90s, a huge project, that over the years came to a total of about $30 million.”

Walter Brown also acknowledged that Cochran was a supporter of the arts, having served on the Board of Directors of the Smithsonian Institution.

“He was a very even-tempered person, had a very deep interest in the arts and humanities,” Walter Brown said. “He was responsible in many ways for the Mississippi Arts Commission.”

Walter Brown said Cochran’s staff in Washington also was helpful to Mississippi.

“There are just so many things that have his name on it and his cooperation with the City of Natchez and the city and county officials all these years has made Natchez what it is today,” Walter Brown said.

Carolyn Vance Smith, who co-founded the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration 30 years ago, said Cochran served as a champion for the National Endowment for the Humanities, who supplied a grant for the NLCC, which hosts a variety of authors and media artists for educational forums each year.

“Sen. Cochran was a firm believer in education,” Smith said. “His parents were both educators and he grew up with a love of learning and was a highly intelligent person. When we called and invited him to help us with the NLCC 30 years ago, he was immediately receptive to the idea and came almost every year and sat on the front row and loved all of the lectures and being a part of that conference. … We were blessed to have his full support.”