Pat Fordice dies at 71|[07/12/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 12, 2007

Patricia Owens Fordice, whose public roles continued after her years as first lady of Mississippi, died at her Madison home today. She was 71.

Fordice, who lived in Vicksburg with her family for 30 years before the election of Kirk Fordice as governor in 1991, was remembered by friends as &#8220a treasure.”

Services will be in Jackson under the direction of Wright and Ferguson Funeral Home.

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Mrs. Fordice, known as &#8220Pat,” was the star of the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s &#8220I’m Not Your Mama” anti-litter campaign, which earned her the Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson Award from Keep America Beautiful during its National Awards ceremony in 2005.

Fordice also served on the boards of Friends of the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Mississippi’s School of the Arts, the International Ballet Competition, the Mississippi Symphony, the Special Olympics and Keep Mississippi Beautiful.

She also hosted a weekly talk radio program on WJNT NewsTalk 1180 AM and co-hosted a statewide weekly television show in Mississippi called &#8220Woman to Woman.” She was a spokesman for the Arthritis Foundation, having been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and later lobbying Congress for Medicare coverage of an arthritis drug.

It was on her radio program that she revealed her diagnosis with cancer, about which she was candid and open. After treatment, she had a period of remission and returned to several public roles.

&#8220I went with her to truckstops, filling stations and nice places. No matter what the level of education – from the lows to the highs – she was the same to everybody,” said Martha Day, a friend of 42 years and former next-door neighbor. &#8220She made everybody else feel important.”

Fordice was an avid supporter of the arts as well as literacy in Mississippi. While first lady, she adopted &#8220Earning by Learning,” an innovative approach to encourage children to read.

Day said it was Fordice’s character that made her a role model.

&#8220She was faithful, kind and caring of everybody,” Day said. &#8220That’s what made her such a great first lady.”

Fordice was born in Jackson, grew up in Memphis and moved to Vicksburg in 1962 with her husband, Kirk Fordice, who joined the family business, Fordice Construction Company. While in Vicksburg, Mrs. Fordice served as president of the Vicksburg Newcomers Club, the Vicksburg Junior Auxilliary, the Hester Flowers Garden Club and the Needlework Guild. The Fordices were also members at Crawford Street United Methodist Church, where she taught Sunday school and served on the Council on Ministries.

Although Fordice did not move back to Vicksburg after her eight years as first lady, she visited often for formal, family and informal events – including bridge games. &#8220She always made our group,” Day said. &#8220She was such a treasure to everybody.”

Friend Pat Hopson said the Fordices were the first people she and her husband, Briggs Hopson, met upon moving to Vicksburg.

&#8220We became dear friends,” Hopson said. &#8220She was a wonderful person and a wonderful friend. She’ll be sorely missed by many.”

The Fordices divorced after his two terms ended, and he remarried for a brief time. After the former governor was diagnosed with leukemia, Mrs. Fordice returned to his side, where she remained until his death on Sept. 7, 2004. He was 70.

&#8220I was very fond of her. She was such a lady,” said friend Martha Klaus. &#8220When she was in the Governor’s Mansion, I think she was just unsurpassable as a first lady. She had such grace and thoughfulness.”

Another friend and former neighbor, Ridgeley Bayley, said it simply. &#8220She touched all our lives,” she said.

Two of her sons, Hunter Fordice and Daniel Kirkwood Fordice III, and her daughter, Angie Fordice Roselle, live in Vicksburg. Another son, Dr. James Owens Fordice, lives in Nashville. She is also survived by 12 grandchildren and a brother, Jimmy Owens of California.