Dye, longtime Mississippi lieutenant governor, dies at 84

Published 8:43 am Monday, July 2, 2018

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Brad Dye, who was lieutenant governor longer than anyone else in Mississippi history, died Sunday at age 84 from respiratory failure.
His son, Dr. Ford Dye, says his father died at a hospice in Ridgeland.

“Brad Dye is one of the most complete public servants I ever served with,” said former House Speaker Billy McCoy. “He gave his very best.”

Dye came from a politically powerful family: his father served as a state House member and an uncle and grandfather of his served as sheriff. He got his start in politics paging for fellow Charleston native U.S. Rep. Jamie Whitten. Later, a young Dye drove U.S. Sen. James Eastland, a political kingpin, around the state during Eastland’s 1954 election campaign. He also worked for future governor Paul B. Johnson Jr. in the 1950s before winning election to the state House in 1959.
A protege of Eastland, Dye was near the center of the action as white Mississippi Democrats struggled against integration. He worked for Eastland in Washington in the early 1960s as an attorney for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee when the state Legislature wasn’t in session. Johnson, by then lieutenant governor, invited Dye to come to Oxford when rioting started amid resistance to James Meredith becoming the first black person to enter the University of Mississippi in 1962. Dye declined, but admitted he supported anti-integration legislation that later looked foolish.

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“That’s how far-fetched some of these things were,” Dye told an oral history interviewer “But you’d get caught up. If you didn’t vote for the damn thing you’d be accused of being an integrationist.”

Dye would later make his peace with integration, hiring African Americans onto his staff as lieutenant governor.

Dye was elected to the state Senate in 1963 but resigned to take a post on the state Workers’ Compensation Commission. From there, he managed John Bell Williams’ campaign for governor in 1967, and Williams appointed him director of the state Agriculture and Industries Board, the forerunner of today’s Mississippi Development Authority. He won election as state treasurer in 1971, but lost his only campaign in 1975 when he ran for lieutenant governor the first time against Evelyn Gandy, the first woman to hold the post.

Dye, though, came back to win the office in 1979 and would hold it from 1980 to 1992. Although the Republican Party began its rise to dominance during that time, Dye remained a conservative Democrat all his life, a throwback to when everyone was a “Mississippi Democrat” and factions were often fluid from issue to issue.

“He served in politics back in the day when you might have had a completely different political viewpoint with somebody, but they still might be friends,” Ford Dye said.

As lieutenant governor, he shepherded Gov. William Winter’s education reform package, intervening at a key moment with powerful Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ellis Bodron, who was inclined to kill it.

“Ellis, what you do with your politics is fine, but in running your mouth, you’ve hurt my politics,” is how Dye later recounted the conversation to authors Jere Nash and Andy Taggart.

Dye also supported the landmark 1987 four-lane highway expansion and was a supporter of the state’s universities and the University of Mississippi Medical Center. McCoy said Dye helped elevate the powers of lieutenant governor to where they are today, saying “he really knew how to work with the members.” But McCoy said Dye also chose not to obstruct the three governors he served under.

“He understood his role as the lieutenant governor and that they were the chief executive,” McCoy said.

Dye lost his final bid for re-election to Eddie Briggs in 1991, as voters picked Briggs and Kirk Fordice as the first GOP governor and lieutenant governor since Reconstruction. Lieutenant governors were later limited to two terms.

“Deborah and I offer our sincere condolences to Donna Dye and the entire family of long-time Lt. Governor Brad Dye,” Gov. Phil Bryant said in a statement. “Brad was a great man who dedicated much of his life to serving his state and its people. He will be missed by all who knew him.”

Dye is survived by his wife, the former Donna Bess Bailey of Coffeeville, and three sons — Ford, Hamp and Rick. Funeral services for Dye are planned Thursday at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson.