BATESVILLE — Mississippi state Rep. Joe Gardner of Batesville, known for his quiet demeanor and carefully considering all sides of complex issues, died Monday. He was 68.
Gardner died of “an apparent heart attack,” said Madison Drake, spokeswoman for Tri-Lakes Medical Center in Batesville.
The Democrat served in the 122-member House since 2007 and had been chairman the House Ethics Committee since the current four-year term started in January 2012.
He represented District 11, which included parts of Panola and Tate counties.
Gardner was a Vietnam veteran and was chaplain at Tri-Lakes Medical Center. He was also an associate pastor of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, according to the legislative website.
“He was a great servant to this community and the state of Mississippi,” Wes Sigler, CEO of Tri-Lakes Medical Center, told The Associated Press.
House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said in a statement that he was shocked and saddened.
“He was a fine man who was well-liked by everyone here,” Gunn said of Gardner. “He was one of the kindest members. Our prayers are with his family during this time.”
Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, said in a statement that Gardner was “truly everybody’s friend.”
“Always ready with a kind word and handshake, Joe could tell you ‘No’ and you would like it,” said Moak, the House Democratic Caucus leader. “Joe will be truly missed by his colleagues who all counted him as friend. We are thinking of his family and praying for them through this most difficult experience.”
Gardner is the fourth Mississippi lawmaker to die since late November and all have been members of the Legislative Black Caucus.
Democratic Rep. David Gibbs, of West Point, died Jan. 13.
Two Democratic state senators, Bennie Turner, of West Point, and Alice Harden, of Jackson, died in late 2012.
Gardner was well-respected because he carried himself with dignity and considered all sides of issues that were debated in the Legislature, said Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones, D-Canton, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus.
“He was a role model to most of the young legislators because he was very dependable,” Jones told AP.
The Panolian newspaper in Batesville reported that Gardner had spoken early Monday at a legislative breakfast in Senatobia.
Gov. Phil Bryant will set a special election to fill Gardner’s seat, but Bryant is not expected to do so until after a funeral is held. The three-month legislative session is scheduled to end April 7.