- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi lawmakers on Thursday remembered former House Speaker Tim Ford as a skilled politician who cared deeply about the state and his colleagues.

Ford was 63 when he died of a heart attack Friday in Oxford. The Baldwyn Democrat served in the House starting in 1980 and was speaker, presiding officer of the 122-member chamber, from 1988 to 2004.

Legislators packed into the House chamber for a memorial service Thursday.

Democratic Rep. Steve Holland is from north Mississippi’s Lee County, as was Ford. Holland recalled Thursday that he was not expected to win his first House election, in 1983, but he did - and he knocked out a candidate preferred by then-Speaker C.B. “Buddie” Newman, who kept tight control on the House. Ford, who was chairman of the House Elections Committee at the time, called on Holland soon after the election to offer congratulations and to solicit Holland’s support for Newman.

On Thursday, Holland recalled what Ford told him back then: “I’m a progressive Baldwyn redneck and you’re a progressive Plantersville redneck. Hell, two Appalachian rednecks within 25 miles of each other surely have much in common. Let’s have a drink tomorrow night. We’ve only just begun.’”

Four years after that meeting, a group of young House members revolted against Newman, who kept tight control on the House by excluding some members - including African-Americans - from participating. Ford emerged as the top candidate for the leadership post.

Holland said the deal making to elect Ford as speaker took place not in the Capitol but in the smoke-filled bar of favorite legislative hangout, the old Sun-N-Sand hotel - a place, Holland noted, that had neither sun nor sand.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said Ford often persuaded House members to take tough votes that they didn’t want to take because he believed they were for the good of the state.

“He wasn’t looking at a tree to carve his name on. He was looking at the forest,” Frierson said. “And he said, ‘Let’s do what’s right for the House. Let’s do what’s right for Mississippi.’”

Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs, a Democrat who served in the House more than two decades, remembered Ford as a consensus builder who made the House more inclusive for members who had previously been shut out of the legislative process. Flaggs said that when he was having difficulty in his family life at one point, he turned to Ford as a friend.

Flaggs said Ford told him “if it came down between family and politics, give up politics.”

Ford donated his body to research at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

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