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Remembering those we lost in 2012

Eudora Welty once wrote in The Optimist’s Daughter, “The mystery in how little we know of other people is no greater than the mystery of how much.”

Here are some of the Mississippians that we lost in 2012 as reported by the Mississippi Business Journal and other media outlets.

University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Medicine dean emeritus Dr. Wallace Conerly, 76. Conerly’s career fostered expanded research, a more diverse student and faculty population, greater community involvement, increased endowment and increased national presence at UMMC.



Former district attorney and gubernatorial candidate Maurice Dentin, 82. The Columbia resident was elected mayor at 26 and was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for governor in 1975. He also was the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in 1978, an election won by Republican Thad Cochran.

U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper Jr., 70. The Belzoni native practiced law in Cleveland for many years before his appointment to the Northern District federal bench in 1999 by President Bill Clinton.

Newspaper publisher Celia Emmerich, matriarch of the Emmerich newspaper family, 80. The Gulfport native was widow of former Associated Press board member and ex-Greenwood Commonwealth editor/publisher John Emmerich. She moved to Greenwood in 1973 when her husband bought the Commonwealth and sold advertising, worked in circulation and wrote feature articles.

Former Meridian mayor I.A. “Al” Rosenbaum, 92. A decorated Marine veteran of World War II, Rosenbaum was mayor from 1977 to 1985 and was a co-founder of Meyer & Rosenbaum Insurance. In the 1960′s, Rosebaum was a leader in the civil rights movement and played a major role in rebuilding black Christian churches and the Congregation Beth Israel temple after it was firebombed in 1968.

Former gubernatorial candidate and farmer Mike Sturdivant, 85. The Glendora plantation owner was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1983 and 1987. He also served as chairman of the state College Board and as board chairman of the Methodist hospital system in Memphis.

Former higher education commissioner E.E. “Tad” Trash, 86. The Lake native was a champion NCAA boxer during his undergraduate years at Louisiana State University and later led Mississippi’s higher education system for 19 years as it struggled with desegregation issues related to historic black colleges.

Former state senator Ezell Lee, 74. The Picayune resident served most of his career as a Democrat and was defeated in a primary election shortly after he switched to the Republican Party in 2011. Towards the end of his career Lee vocally supported Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Ross, public schools and full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.



Pearl Police Department investigator Mike Walters, 37. Walters was shot and killed on May 1 while serving an arrest warrant on a suspected child molester. Survived by his wife and daughter, Walters was a former professional baseball player and had served with PPD for three years. He was the first fallen officer in the department’s history.

Former Mississippi state senator Paul Richard “Rick” Lambert, 60. Lambert served in the Senate as a Democrat from District 45 in Forrest County and chaired the finance, judiciary and municipalities committees. He also served all 12 years on the Senate Public Utilities Committee and was vice chairman for four years.

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Paul A. Harvey, 75. Harvey was a former commander of Keesler Air Force Base in Meridian and later oversaw the swift expansion of Mississippi’s casino industry during the early 1990s as the first executive director of the state gaming commission. Harvey also flew 160 combat missions in Vietnam and Southeast Asia and was commander of the 76th Military Airlift Division, overseeing the operations of Andrews Air Force Base and Air Force One.

Literary scholar Noel Polk, 69. A professor of English at Mississippi State University and editor of “The Mississippi Quarterly,” Polk also taught at the University of Southern Mississippi from 1977 to 2004. Polk was a winner of the Richard Wright Literary Excellence Award for his body of work focusing on the writings of William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and other Southern authors.

Retired Delta State University vice-president Leroy Morganti, 73. The longtime educator was also a former newspaper reporter and later press secretary for the late Gov. Cliff Finch.

Former Mississippi state representative William Eugene “Billy” Bowles, 78. The Chickasaw County native was a longtime grocery store owner and champion of small business during his twenty years in the State Legislature and was chairman of the oil and gas committee from 1992-2004.

Former William Carey University president J. Ralph Noonkester, 88. Elected president of the small Baptist college at the age of 32, Noonkester made William Carey the first private college in Mississippi to admit black students during the height of the civil rights era. Also as Hattiesburg chamber of commerce president, Noonkester raised donations to rebuild the home of slain activist Vernon Dahmer.



Television star Gary Collins, 74. The California native became an adopted son of Mississippi after marrying Brandon-born actress and former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley. A longtime host for the Miss America pageant, Collins was a frequent TV guest star for more than thirty years and was nominated six times for an Emmy Award, finally winning one in 1983.

Pickens mayor and former political candidate Joel Gill, 61. The farmer and town alderman was elected mayor in 2009. A conservative Democrat, Gill ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and later for state agriculture commissioner.

Novelist Lewis Nordan, 72. The Forest native and author of “Wolf Whistle” once said he was haunted as a child by the murder of schoolboy Emmett Till, an African-American who was lynched for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Nordan began writing in his thirties and was a longtime writing instructor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice William Joel Blass, 95. Blass was a Bronze Star-awarded veteran of World War II and practiced law in Wiggins for twenty years before being named director of research at the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1965. Blass was appointed to the state court by Gov. Ray Mabus in 1989.

Southern novelist Ellen Douglas, 91. Born Josephine Ayres Haxton, the Natchez native chose the pen name for her Southern Gothic stories that covered everything from domestic service to the rise of the New South. Her works included “Can’t Quit You, Baby” and “Apostles of Light,” which won her a National Book Award in 1974.

Greenville mayor Chuck Jordan, 66. The longtime Delta businessman and retired president of Planter’s Bank won his first mayoral election in a landslide last December. After outlining a bold economic development plan for the community, he resigned after being diagnosed with a sudden and aggressive form of pancreatic cancer.

Country rock legend Chris Ethridge, 65. The Meridian-born bassist for the Flying Burrito Brothers helped build musical bridges between country music and rock music and was a friend and frequent collaborator of Gram Parsons, Willie Nelson and Booker T. Jones.

Longtime marine biologist Thomas D. McIlwain, 71. A fishery scientist and educator for more than 50 years, McIlwain is credited with transforming the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs from an independent lab to a part of the University of Southern Mississippi. He was also known for starting aquaculture programs to cultivate striped bass and shrimp farming.

Motivational speaker and author Zig Ziglar, 86. Known for coining popular phrases like “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time,” the Alabama native grew up in Yazoo City and met his wife of 65 years in Jackson when they were teenagers. A veteran of World War II, Ziglar began his career in sales and would go on to author bestsellers like “See You at the Top” and “Better Than Good.”


Longtime Mississippi state senator Bennie Turner, 64. The West Point native was an attorney and county prosecutor for Clay County before entering public service. Known as a champion for public education, he was also past chairman of the judiciary committee.

Longtime state senator Alice Harden, 64. The former teacher and higher education advocate represented Hinds County in the State Legislature from 1988 until her death and was the current chair of the appropriations and education committees.


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