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U.S. Senator Thad Cochran takes part in a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, on February 22, 2017. Photo by Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters

Former Sen. Cochran draws bipartisan praise at funeral

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Two U.S. senators from opposing parties praised their former colleague, Republican Thad Cochran of Mississippi, as one of their closest friends and as a gentleman who cared about the people of his state and worked across party lines.

Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont spoke Tuesday at Cochran’s second funeral, the day after a first service at the Mississippi Capitol. About 500 mourners filled the sanctuary of Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson, including federal judges and several current or former members of Congress and state officials.

“Thad was a senator’s senator,” Leahy said. “He even looked the part, right out of central casting — all that distinguished gray hair.”

Leahy, who is mostly bald, added with a smile: “I envied all that hair.”

Cochran was 81 when he died Thursday at a veterans’ nursing home in Oxford, Mississippi. He served 45 years in Washington, with the first six in the House and the rest in the Senate. He retired in 2018 as the 10th longest-serving senator in U.S. history.

Cochran was known as the “Quiet Persuader” because of his gentlemanly demeanor. As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he directed billions of dollars to Mississippi for agriculture, university research, military contracts and disaster relief. Shelby is now chairman of that committee, with Leahy as vice chairman.

Leahy said Cochran was a leader on agriculture issues and worked to connect schools to fresh, healthy food.

“He wanted children fed,” Leahy said.

Shelby described Cochran as “a great legislator a true Southern gentleman.”

“Thad, foremost, was an Ole Miss Rebel,” Shelby said, drawing chuckles from some in the church.

Cochran earned his bachelor’s degree in 1959 from the University of Mississippi, and was a cheerleader and student body vice president. After serving in the Navy, he earned a law degree from Ole Miss in 1965.

Retired Rear Adm. Barry Black, former head of Navy chaplains and the current U.S. Senate chaplain, delivered the homily Tuesday. He said he met Cochran 16 years ago at a prayer breakfast in Washington. Black said Cochran regularly attended and sometimes spoke at the prayer breakfast about his own “faith journey.”

Black described Cochran as “a man who had had a powerful and significant encounter with the Lord, Jesus Christ.”

“When I heard that he had transitioned from time into eternity, words of Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ … popped into my mind,” Black said, “Antony saying, ‘His life was gentle, the elements so mix’d in him, but nature could stand up and say to all the world: This was a man.'”

Cochran’s casket, draped in an American flag, was on display Sunday at the University of Mississippi law school in Oxford and Monday at the state Capitol in Jackson. During a brief service Tuesday before the casket was moved from the Capitol to the church, Navy Cmdr. John-Paul Falardeau of Naval Air Station Meridian, presented the folded flag to Cochran’s widow, Kay. Mississippi Highway Patrol honor guard members fired a 21-gun salute outside the Capitol.

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