Appropriations Vice Chair Leahy Senate Floor Tribute to Senator Thad Cochran

I have often felt that Senator Thad Cochran was plucked from Central Casting to fill the role of a devoted public servant.  More than most of us, he looks the part, and more than most of us, he embodies the best of what the Senate can be. 

Our country needs more public servants like Thad.  As Congress has become more partisan in recent years, Thad has stood by his values.  He brings substance, not soundbites, to the Upper Chamber, and his leadership as “The Quiet Persuader” will be sorely missed.

The son of a school teacher, it is no shock that Thad has devoted his life to public service.  Thad joined the Navy after graduating from Ole Miss, and he went on to earn a law degree from the University of Mississippi.    

It was around this time that Thad became engaged in Mississippi politics, often traveling with his father to help with voter registration in campaigns around the state.  Thad worked on campaigns from County Sheriff to the Governor’s race, ultimately making his own successful bid for the House in 1972, and for the Senate in 1978. 

Thad and I would go on to both become Chairmen of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.  Today, in the Committee’s hearing room, our official portraits hang together. 

Marcelle and I joined Thad in Mississippi to visit the sprawling cotton farms and fish farms.  And twice Thad joined me in Vermont to visit small, family dairy farmers.  I even introduced Thad to my mother outside the Vermont State House.    

It was during one of those trips to St. Johnsbury, Vermont, in 1985 that a cold snap hit.  I’m afraid Thad, ever the Southern gentleman, was not ready for temperatures that dipped toward 20 below zero – cold weather even by Vermont standards. 

Turning to me with a shiver he said, “Pat, this is not Mississippi weather.”

Our travel extended beyond Vermont and Mississippi, to meet with leaders around the world.  We, and our wives, grew closer on those fact-finding visits.  Thad, through his conversation and friendship, made even the longest trip seem short. 

In our travels, Thad would always check in on Cochran fellows in the country.  Started in 1984, The Cochran Fellowship Program has provided training for more than 17,500 people from 125 different countries to develop agricultural systems and strengthen trade between our countries.

Thad is leaving a legacy that is tied to our nation’s agricultural development.  As the former Chair of the Agriculture Committee, his finger prints remain on the Farm Bill. 

More recently together, we championed the reauthorization of the Farm-to-School Program, which provides Federal resources to bring fresh and nutritious local foods to more than 40,000 schools across the country – including 83 percent of Vermont school districts. As the son of a teacher and a great advocate for Mississippi farmers, Thad knows how important this program is to strengthening local farm economies and educating young kids and their families about the importance of eating locally-grown and nutritionally dense foods.

Despite being on opposite ends of the political spectrum, over the years, Thad and I have crossed the aisle to work hand-in-hand for the American people, from our work in the Senate, to our work for years as Regents to the Smithsonian.  In every bill and program on which we have worked, he has been a Senator with integrity, decency and civility, and most importantly a dear friend.  Thad will always keep his word.  Unfortunately, that is a quality that is becoming increasingly scarce among members of both parties.   

When I became Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I knew I would have a steadfast partner in Senator Cochran.  He has earned the moniker of “The Quiet Persuader,” and it is why he has been so successful in the Senate.  When Hurricane Katrina struck, it was Senator Cochran’s leadership that directed nearly $100 billion to communities on the Gulf Coast to rebuild. 

Senator Cochran will leave this Chamber having cast more than 13,000 votes and becoming the 10th longest serving Senator in the history of our country.  A constant champion for Mississippi and the American people, I don’t think many people truly understand how much Senator Cochran has accomplished for his state and for his country. 

Marcelle and I count Thad and Kay among our dearest friends, and his leadership on the Appropriations Committee, and in the Senate, will be sorely missed.  Our country needs more devoted public servants like Thad Cochran, and I am sad to see my dear friend leave.  But I know his legacy is a presence that will be felt in this Chamber, in Mississippi, and across the country for generations to come.  

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