/Billy McCoy, former House speaker and one of the architects of school funding formula, dies at 77

Billy McCoy, former House speaker and one of the architects of school funding formula, dies at 77

McCoy was a self-confessed Yellow Dog Democrat and represented rural Prentiss County and Alcorn counties in northeast Mississippi. He died Tuesday afternoon after being admitted to North Mississippi Medical Center for approximately two weeks. Rep. Steve Holland (D-Plantersville), who was one McCoy’s key supporters during his tenure as speaker, said that “Speaker McCoy” will be etched in Mississippi history. “He transformed this state through his dedication to public school and to transport.” The funeral service will take place at Gaston Baptist Church in Booneville at 2 p.m. on Friday. The church will host a visitation from 4 to 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. Friday. Former state representative Bill Miles from Fulton said, “There’s no doubt Billy McCoy is a man of people who had an important impact on public education and transportation and economic development to the betterment of people.” McCoy was a part of my team and I am proud to have been there. He was the chair of Education Committee in 1997. This program provided additional funding to local school districts. McCoy also served as vice chair of Transportation Committee in 1987, helping to pass the program that led to construction of over 1,300 miles of four-lane highways throughout the state. Lloyd Gray, then editor of Tupelo’s Tupelo newspaper, wrote that McCoy was a populist because he sympathizes with and advocates for the common people and their concerns. McCoy was a tireless advocate for improving Mississippi’s public schools, and so the chance for Mississippians to have a prosperous life. This is what his colleagues and friends recall about him. When officials named the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s downtown Jackson headquarters after McCoy, they said, “I can see his accomplishments and look out from my house.” Dick Hall, a Republican from Central Mississippi Transportation Commission, was McCoy’s colleague in the House in 1987 when the Legislature overrode the veto by the then-Gov. Bill Allain enacted a program to increase the fuel tax to finance construction of hundreds upon hundreds of miles on four-lane highways. Hall dedicated the day by stating that it was Billy McCoy who made this happen. McCoy is a Rienzi native. He began his House career in 1980 and served until January 2012. He held the seat that his father had once held. For his last eight years, McCoy was elected speaker by his colleagues. After a series of health issues and political changes, he did not run for re-election in 2011. His Appalachian speech patterns and movement were affected by his strokes, but not his passion to govern. McCoy’s House began to become more difficult for him to control as the Republican Party gained more support in Mississippi. This encouraged his departure, according state Capitol observers. McCoy was awarded the Mississippi Medal of Service in 2011 along with 10 other distinguished state citizens. Haley Barbour stated that McCoy was focused on the issues that he believed were crucial to Mississippi’s future. He also received a Mississippi Medal of Service along with 10 other outstanding state citizens. Hall agreed with him that McCoy had “made his mark” in 1987, when he helped pass the four-lane highway program. The program, which will fund public schools, will also fund the Mississippi Adequate Education program. McCoy’s friends describe him as scrappy and persistent. McCoy had a temper. House members remember times when McCoy would take off his suit jacket in order to face another member of the chamber. Opponents viewed him as stubborn. He responded to his opponents by not naming any Republican legislators to chair committees when he lost the 2008 speakership without one Republican vote. David Cole, of Batesville was an ally of McCoy and retired as president of Itawamba Community College, Fulton. Cole described McCoy as “a man for all season’. McCoy was born Aug. 14, 1942 and was a farmer. McCoy earned his Bachelor’s degree at Mississippi State University. He also attended Northeast Mississippi Junior College. He was a loan officer at the Farmers Home Administration, an auditor for the state Department of Audit, and a vocational agricultural teacher. He was a Baptist, Shriner, Mason, and a member of the Farm Bureau. He also served as a trustee at Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville. McCoy answered a question in 2009 asking which Democrats he wanted to see run for the governorship. He said that he would like to see “good Democrats” run for the office. They should be dedicated to public service and willing to work with all aspects of the state to move it forward. McCoy said that his “crowning achievement”, was having been part of funding public education and highways. He is also the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. McCoy also cited “the partisan atmosphere that has enveloped Capitol in recent years” as one of his disappointments. He is survived by Edith Leatherwood, his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Gray wrote that McCoy’s populism was also the foundation of his leadership on the most important jobs-producing legislative initiative in recent state history…which transformed the economic landscape for Northeast Mississippi.” Patsy Brumfield contributed to this article.