Among his many passions, there were two of Joel Gill’s that surfaced more often than the others – his love of Mississippi’s rural communities and his desire to help Mississippi cattlemen.
Gill, the Pickens mayor who ran as a Democrat for Congress in 2008 and for agriculture commissioner last year, was killed in a car wreck Thursday evening in Holmes County. Details of the wreck were not available from the Mississippi Highway Patrol Friday morning, but Jackson television station WAPT reported that Gill hit a tree on Highway 17.
Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said Gill was one of the few politicians running for an office that covered a large district (or in the case of ag commissioner, the entire state) who made it a point to visit as many rural communities as he could, and not concentrate on the larger voter clusters.
“One of the things that he always talked about was how small, little rural communities get forgotten about,” Presley said.
Presley said he ran into Gill last year at the volunteer fire department in Cardsville, a tiny spot on the map in Itawamba County. Gill was there asking for votes as part of his run against current ag commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith, who ended up winning handily.
“You have to admire somebody who would take on running for a statewide office and just get in his vehicle and go out and ask for votes, knowing full well he was up against a wall of money and a wall of advertisements,” Presley said. “He believed doing that was just important as putting an advertisement on TV.
“And what a fine fellow,” Presley continued. “He was a man that was in it for all the right reasons. It wasn’t about Joel Gill, it was about the public. What a great credit for being staunch in his beliefs, but not being offensive about it. He was firm in what he believed was right, but he never tried to hurt anybody with it. Never shied away from being a Democrat, never shied away from being a rural advocate, but he was never in your face. All of us, Brandon Presley included, could learn from that. He was a gentle, kind, Christian man.”
Politics wasn’t all Gill did. He and his brother started running the family cattle business, Mississippi Order Buyers Inc., in the late 1970s. Gill served on the Mississippi Beef Council and was president of the Mississippi Livestock Markets Association.
One of his pet issues was the country of origin labeling law that requires retailers to provide county-of-origin labeling on fresh beef, pork and lamb.
“He worked long and hard on that,” said Sammy Blossom, executive director of the Mississippi Beef Council.
Blossom said Gill almost never missed a meeting of the Beef Council in his 20 years of service to the organization.
“He was so passionate about his beliefs and his philosophy,” Blossom said.
Gill is survived by his wife, two children and four grandchildren. Funeral arrangements had not been finalized Friday morning.