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Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor, an official credited with helping to make advances in the regionâs transportation systems, died Monday of a heart attack. He was 68.
Minor was attending an annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials at the Beau Rivage Resort in Biloxi.
He collapsed in his hotel room and was taken to Biloxi Regional Medical Center about 8 a.m., then was pronounced dead of a heart attack shortly after 9 a.m., said Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove.
Minor, a Democrat, was first elected as one of three transportation commissioners in November 2003. He represented 33 north Mississippi counties, including Oktibbeha County and the surrounding counties of Choctaw, Clay, Lowndes, Webster and Winston.
Before being elected to the commission, Minor served 20 years in the Mississippi Senate, representing Marshall, Benton and DeSoto counties.
He was in the Senate from 1980 to 1988, then from 1992 until he was sworn in as transportation commissioner in January 2004.
Former Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, who presided over the Senate during Minorâs final term, said he was loyal and trustworthy.
âHe was recognized as a leader of impeccable character, and he earned the respect of those on both sides of the aisle,â Tuck said.
âBeing a businessman, his heart was in economic development and job creation.â
Local visits and impact
Minor commented on the economic development aspects of improved transportation on two occasions related to the 2006 opening of the Highway 25 four-lane between Starkville and Jackson.
âFour-lane roads cause economic development,â said Minor.
Businesses look for routes to bring raw materials in and finished products out, he said. Plus, such companies as convenience stores tend to crop up along the new routes, bringing even more employment to the area.
âIf the roads are not there, theyâre not coming,â MInor said of prospective businesses.
District 37 State Rep. Gary Chism,
R-Columbus, said: âBill Minor has been a good and fair highway commissioner. He has taken care of Lowndes ounty. He will be sorely missed.â
Chism says Minor had already announced during a groundbreaking on a bridge project near Columbus he was seeking re-election. âI feel like he would have been a shoe-in,â Chism said.
Minor was instrumental in the funding for the bypass around Starkville in working to get the old C&G rail line between West Point and Greenwood reactivated.
He also was very instrumental for getting funding for the Severstal and Crossroads industrial sites as well as the Golden Triangle Aerospace Park, Chism said.
Minor was also in the area for the dedication of the completed four-lane of Airport Road in Lowndes County in July 2008. He helped secure funding for the project, Chism said Monday.
âIt is amazing when you look up here. ... When I became commissioner, the only thing up here was the airport,â said Minor, soon running down the list of businesses now in place around GTRA.
âCommissioner Bill Minor was instrumental and played a key part in the successful industrial growth in the Golden Triangle. He was a champion for the multi-modal infrastructure that supports our key industries. Without the improved road, rail, and airport funding he helped provide we wouldnât have seen the boom weâre experiencing,â GTRA Executive Director Mike Hainsey said.
Chismâs first term in office from 2000 to 2004 was Minorâs last in the Senate, where he served as Finance Committee chair.
âHe would listen to both sides and was a fair chairman, and thatâs not a compliment that a lot of chairmen get,â Chism said.
State Sen. Gary Jackson, R-French Camp said his interactions with Minor included several occasions to address safety issues, including the lighting of the interchange between Highway 9 and U.S. Highway 82 in Eupora.
âIt was a great improvement. He helped us get those there in a time of a tight budget crunch as well as several individual items. He was always available and always accommodating when he could be,â Jackson said. âWeâre going to miss Bill Minor.â
State Rep. Dannie Reed, R-Ackerman, said: âI thought he was a very good commissioner. He pushed forward a lot of our newer programs. ... My condolences to the family.â
Reed says heâs noticed improvements in road maintenance. Speaking of transportation employees, Reed says âTheyâve had great morale and the supplies and equipment to do a great job and I think itâs a leadership factor that they do a great job.â Reed says he thinks Minor worked with the other commissioners to âimprove the Highway Department and the service we receive.â
Reed also said he thinks Minor was âvery capable especially because of his experience in the legislature in being ableâ to gain support for the highway system.
âVery strong willedâ
Funeral arrangements were pending in Minorâs hometown of Holly Springs, said Mississippi Department of Transportation spokeswoman Carrie Adams. His body was being flown there Monday.
Dick Hall, the central district transportation commissioner, had been at the conference in Biloxi but left before Minor died. Hall, a Republican, said he considered Minor a friend even though âwe had our political differences.â The two served together in the state Senate, and Hall said Minor was a serious legislator and commissioner.
âHe a very strong-willed individual,â Hall said. âOnce he made up his mind, he was a bulldog.â
While he was in the Senate, Minor served as vice chairman and then chairman of the Highway Committee and helped pass the 1987 Four-Lane Highway Program thatâs credited with improving roads throughout the state.
Minor later served as chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, which handles bills for taxes and bonds, and on the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which outlines state spending priorities.
Minor often voted across party lines when he was in the Senate. During debates, he was known for his loud, impassioned and extensive explanations of bills. Still, in 2002, he gave one of the most succinct, all-purpose summations when he told his colleagues: âThe bill does what the bill does.â
The current chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Democrat Warner McBride of Courtland, said Monday he was stunned to learn of Minorâs death. McBride said Minor was a man of integrity who kept his word.
âHe really knew how government works and was always interested in getting results,â McBride said. âHe was interested in making things happen that would help Mississippians.â
Minor was born and reared in Benton County, graduated from Hickory Flat High School and attended Northwest Mississippi Community College. He and his brothers formed a plumbing company that grew into a chain of hardware stores in northern Mississippi, according to his MDOT biography.
Gov. Haley Barbour issued a statement saying Minor had a âlong and distinguishedâ career. Barbour said he and his wife, Marsha, are praying for Minorâs family.
Hall said Minor will be missed on the political scene.
âHe was going to tell you what was on his mind, whether you liked it or not,â Hall said. âI admire that in anybody.â
Plans to fill vacancy
On Monday, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann issued a statement on the procedure by which Minorâs Transportation Commission seat will be filled.
The governor has 15 from the date the vacancy happens to announce a special election, which is to take place within 60 days after the electionâs announcement. The governor also has the discretion to set a candidate qualifying deadline.
âOur office has recommended to the Governorâs office that the qualifying deadline for candidates for Northern District Transportation Commissioner be at least 45 days prior to election day, to give elections officials the time needed to prepare ballots,â Hosemann said in the statement.
This places voting in January. The winner of the election will serve almost the final year of Minorâs four-year term.
Hosemann commented in a separate, earlier statement Monday on Minorâs death.
Â âI regret to learn of the passing of long-time state senator and Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor. Bill gave much of his life to serve our state. Many Mississippians will drive to the polls tomorrow on highways which are the fruits of his labor.â
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant also issued a statement on Minorâs passing.
âDeborah and I were saddened to hear of the untimely death of Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor. I have known Bill since his days in the state Senate as a dedicated public servant and a man of traditional honor. All those who knew Bill will miss him. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this difficult time.â
Editorâs note: The Associated Press contributed to this report.