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Longtime city resident last month revealed he was battling leukemia

[9/7/04]Daniel Kirkwood Fordice, who capped his career as an engineer and contractor in Vicksburg with two terms as Mississippi governor, died today at the University Medical Center in Jackson. He was 70.

The campaigns in 1991 and 1995 were the only two of his life, and he won both despite being unknown, outspent and a member of the GOP. Mississippi had not elected a Republican governor in 116 years.

Mr. Fordice disclosed last month that he had been diagnosed with leukemia. Funeral arrangements were pending and will be under the direction of Wright and Ferguson of Jackson.

Tentative plans include public visitation in the state Capitol Thursday followed by services Friday. He was a member of the Methodist church.

A Purdue graduate and Memphis native, Mr. Fordice lived in Vicksburg for 30 years with his wife, Pat, before moving to the Governor’s Mansion. They reared their three sons and a daughter here. He left office in 2000 and had been living in Madison.

Known for his candor and populist appeal, Mr. Fordice unseated incumbent Gov. Ray Mabus and then defeated then-Secretary of State Dick Molpus for a second term.

He presided over a growing economy, bolstered by a casino-building boom in Tunica, Vicksburg and the Gulf Coast. He fervently opposed casinos and appointed as the first Gaming Commission members people who established and enforced strict rules, avoiding scandal.

“I think that Kirk can probably be given credit for establishing a valid two-party system in Mississippi,” said Ed Buelow, a former Republican member of the House from Vicksburg and two-term state tax commissioner. Buelow was an early supporter of Fordice’s and emcee of a Vicksburg celebration for the governor-elect in 1991.

“Kirk’s biggest political legacy is going to be his attempts to bring balance to budgets, fiscal responsibility and economic development to the state,” said state Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg.

Although tax increases were enacted over his veto, one legislative win was a 2 percent “rainy day” reserve that helped keep the state from going broke. The reserve was maintained for 10 years, but lawmakers have tapped it out for the past two years.

Although a divorce from Pat Fordice was followed by a marriage to another woman from his youth, Ann Creson, and another divorce, Fordice remained interested in government.

“The last thing I asked him to help me with, three weeks ago, it got accomplished. That’s a tribute to a man,” Chaney said.

Mr. Fordice often battled with the press as well, most famously with WLBT anchor Bert Case, who questioned Fordice, still in office, about his relationship with Creson.

“Let me tell you something, you invade my privacy this way six months from now, I’ll whip your ass. You have no damn business playing these games.”

Case today said he regretted that he and Fordice had not made amends. “He was a larger-than-life figure,” Case said. “You never had any doubt of where he stood on an issue.”

Mr. Fordice was nearly killed in a November 1996 car accident near Memphis on Interstate 55 and had undergone surgeries for prostate cancer and removal of his gall bladder.

Before election, Mr. Fordice was the CEO of Fordice Construction Company, a heavy-construction general contracting firm best known for forming concrete revetment mattresses for the Army Corps of Engineers.

He was a registered professional engineer, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Purdue. He also served as an engineering officer in the First Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. He retired from the Army Reserve as a colonel in 1977 after 18 years of service.

The Fordices’ sons are Jim, a physician in Nashville; Danny and Hunter who operate Fordice Construction Company in Vicksburg; and his daughter, Angie Roselle, who also lives in Vicksburg.