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Flags drop across Vicksburg, state

City Hall custodian Walter Crums lowers the American flag to half-staff Tuesday afternoon in front of City Hall, in mourning after the death Tuesday of former Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice. Gov. Haley Barbour ordered flags to fly at half-staff through Friday.(Brian Loden The Vicksburg Post)

[9/8/04]Flags in Vicksburg were dropped to half-staff Tuesday in a salute to former Gov. Kirk Fordice even before Gov. Haley Barbour ordered an official period of mourning.

The man known to employees and politicians alike for his direct manner will lie in state Thursday before being buried in Madison Friday.

A public visitation for Mr. Fordice will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday in the Capitol rotunda. A private visitation will be 7 until 9 p.m. at Wright & Ferguson Funeral Home in Jackson. The funeral will be Friday at 10 a.m. at First Baptist Church in Jackson.

Mr. Fordice and his family lived in Vicksburg for 30 years, and he retired in Madison after his two terms as governor ended in 2000. He died Tuesday morning at University Medical Center after disclosing last month he was being treated for leukemia, a blood cancer. Mr. Fordice was 70.

While here, he was president and CEO of Fordice Construction Company. Joe Pettway, who worked there, said he was surprised when Mr. Fordice told him that he was thinking about a run for governor. Pettway said he wasn’t surprised, however, at Mr. Fordice’s victory in 1991.

“He didn’t know what coming in second place was,” Pettway said.

Loyd Hattaway, another longtime Fordice employee, said he will be among those who will line up to pay final respects to the man he and his fellow workers called “Chief.”

“He’s just a good friend and boss man,” said Hattaway, who worked at the company from 1952 until going into semi-retirement in 2000. The company was founded by Fordice’s father in Memphis, where Mr. Fordice was born and grew up before receiving engineering degrees at Purdue University. Mr. Fordice joined his father’s company in 1962 and came to Vicksburg with his wife, Pat, also from Memphis. Here, the company was best known for making concrete revetments used by the Army Corps of Engineers for erosion control along the Mississippi River.

They also reared four children here. Sons Danny and Hunter remain Vicksburg residents and manage the company, and daughter Angie Roselle lives here, too. Son Jim is a physician in Nashville. The Fordices have 12 grandchildren.

Hattaway said Mr. Fordice led by example at the construction company.

“He wasn’t scared of hard work,” Hattaway said.

Mr. Fordice also had little patience for those who slowed him down, Hattaway said.

“One day we were having trouble with the plant. A little inspector was writing all the time. Kirk told him to get out of here and get an honest job,” Hattaway said.

Bruce Odom, a superintendent for the company in St. Francisville, La., said Mr. Fordice was far ahead of his time when he started a profit-sharing program for his employees in the 1970s. The program also gave Fordice a brush with government bureaucracy, something he would crusade against during his time in the Governor’s Mansion.

“He did it until the government made it so much paperwork that he had to cut it out,” Odom said.

Odom said Mr. Fordice garnered a strong personal loyalty among his employees.

“He cared more about employees than anyone I ever seen. Anything we needed, he got,” Odom said.

Barbour, endorsed by Mr. Fordice and inaugurated in January, set the official mourning period and declared that American and Mississippi flags be lowered as a sign of respect through Friday.

State Rep. Chester Masterson, R-Vicksburg, is a retired physician. He got to know Mr. Fordice through the Republican Party after he became active in 1997 and sought office in 2000.

“We are losing a very good man, and he was always forthright. He never left any doubt to anybody else where he stood,” Masterson said. “He helped bring the party together.”

Mississippi’s senior Republican elected official paid tribute to the first Republican governor since Reconstruction.

“Kirk Fordice was a strong and decisive governor who helped move us forward with new jobs and a new sense of self confidence.” Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said.

Fordice was also a pilot, a big-game hunter, and an equestrian who competed regularly in cutting horse events.

In addition to former first lady Pat Fordice and their children, he is survived by a sister, Grace Holt of Monticello, Ark.

The family has asked that memorials be made to:

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, 405 Fontaine Place, Ridgeland, MS 39157, or

Southern Heritage Air Museum, P.O. Box 821568, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or

Young America Foundation, Ronald Reagan Ranch Center, 217 State St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.