Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor, an official credited with helping to make advances in the region’s transportation systems, died Monday of a heart attack. He was 68.
Minor was attending an annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials at the Beau Rivage Resort in Biloxi.
He collapsed in his hotel room and was taken to Biloxi Regional Medical Center about 8 a.m., then was pronounced dead of a heart attack shortly after 9 a.m., said Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove.
Minor, a Democrat, was first elected as one of three transportation commissioners in November 2003. He represented 33 north Mississippi counties, including Oktibbeha County and the surrounding counties of Choctaw, Clay, Lowndes, Webster and Winston.
Before being elected to the commission, Minor served 20 years in the Mississippi Senate, representing Marshall, Benton and DeSoto counties.
He was in the Senate from 1980 to 1988, then from 1992 until he was sworn in as transportation commissioner in January 2004.
Former Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, who presided over the Senate during Minor’s final term, said he was loyal and trustworthy.
“He was recognized as a leader of impeccable character, and he earned the respect of those on both sides of the aisle,” Tuck said.
“Being a businessman, his heart was in economic development and job creation.”
Local visits and impact
Minor commented on the economic development aspects of improved transportation on two occasions related to the 2006 opening of the Highway 25 four-lane between Starkville and Jackson.
“Four-lane roads cause economic development,” said Minor.
Businesses look for routes to bring raw materials in and finished products out, he said. Plus, such companies as convenience stores tend to crop up along the new routes, bringing even more employment to the area.
“If the roads are not there, they’re not coming,” MInor said of prospective businesses.
District 37 State Rep. Gary Chism,
R-Columbus, said: “Bill Minor has been a good and fair highway commissioner. He has taken care of Lowndes ounty. He will be sorely missed.”
Chism says Minor had already announced during a groundbreaking on a bridge project near Columbus he was seeking re-election. “I feel like he would have been a shoe-in,” Chism said.
Minor was instrumental in the funding for the bypass around Starkville in working to get the old C&G rail line between West Point and Greenwood reactivated.
He also was very instrumental for getting funding for the Severstal and Crossroads industrial sites as well as the Golden Triangle Aerospace Park, Chism said.
Minor was also in the area for the dedication of the completed four-lane of Airport Road in Lowndes County in July 2008. He helped secure funding for the project, Chism said Monday.
“It is amazing when you look up here. ... When I became commissioner, the only thing up here was the airport,” said Minor, soon running down the list of businesses now in place around GTRA.
“Commissioner Bill Minor was instrumental and played a key part in the successful industrial growth in the Golden Triangle. He was a champion for the multi-modal infrastructure that supports our key industries. Without the improved road, rail, and airport funding he helped provide we wouldn’t have seen the boom we’re experiencing,” GTRA Executive Director Mike Hainsey said.
Chism’s first term in office from 2000 to 2004 was Minor’s last in the Senate, where he served as Finance Committee chair.
“He would listen to both sides and was a fair chairman, and that’s not a compliment that a lot of chairmen get,” Chism said.
State Sen. Gary Jackson, R-French Camp said his interactions with Minor included several occasions to address safety issues, including the lighting of the interchange between Highway 9 and U.S. Highway 82 in Eupora.
“It was a great improvement. He helped us get those there in a time of a tight budget crunch as well as several individual items. He was always available and always accommodating when he could be,” Jackson said. “We’re going to miss Bill Minor.”
State Rep. Dannie Reed, R-Ackerman, said: “I thought he was a very good commissioner. He pushed forward a lot of our newer programs. ... My condolences to the family.”
Reed says he’s noticed improvements in road maintenance. Speaking of transportation employees, Reed says “They’ve had great morale and the supplies and equipment to do a great job and I think it’s a leadership factor that they do a great job.” Reed says he thinks Minor worked with the other commissioners to “improve the Highway Department and the service we receive.”
Reed also said he thinks Minor was “very capable especially because of his experience in the legislature in being able” to gain support for the highway system.
‘Very strong willed’
Funeral arrangements were pending in Minor’s hometown of Holly Springs, said Mississippi Department of Transportation spokeswoman Carrie Adams. His body was being flown there Monday.
Dick Hall, the central district transportation commissioner, had been at the conference in Biloxi but left before Minor died. Hall, a Republican, said he considered Minor a friend even though “we had our political differences.” The two served together in the state Senate, and Hall said Minor was a serious legislator and commissioner.
“He a very strong-willed individual,” Hall said. “Once he made up his mind, he was a bulldog.”
While he was in the Senate, Minor served as vice chairman and then chairman of the Highway Committee and helped pass the 1987 Four-Lane Highway Program that’s credited with improving roads throughout the state.
Minor later served as chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, which handles bills for taxes and bonds, and on the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which outlines state spending priorities.
Minor often voted across party lines when he was in the Senate. During debates, he was known for his loud, impassioned and extensive explanations of bills. Still, in 2002, he gave one of the most succinct, all-purpose summations when he told his colleagues: “The bill does what the bill does.”
The current chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Democrat Warner McBride of Courtland, said Monday he was stunned to learn of Minor’s death. McBride said Minor was a man of integrity who kept his word.
“He really knew how government works and was always interested in getting results,” McBride said. “He was interested in making things happen that would help Mississippians.”
Minor was born and reared in Benton County, graduated from Hickory Flat High School and attended Northwest Mississippi Community College. He and his brothers formed a plumbing company that grew into a chain of hardware stores in northern Mississippi, according to his MDOT biography.
Gov. Haley Barbour issued a statement saying Minor had a “long and distinguished” career. Barbour said he and his wife, Marsha, are praying for Minor’s family.
Hall said Minor will be missed on the political scene.
“He was going to tell you what was on his mind, whether you liked it or not,” Hall said. “I admire that in anybody.”
Plans to fill vacancy
On Monday, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann issued a statement on the procedure by which Minor’s Transportation Commission seat will be filled.
The governor has 15 from the date the vacancy happens to announce a special election, which is to take place within 60 days after the election’s announcement. The governor also has the discretion to set a candidate qualifying deadline.
“Our office has recommended to the Governor’s office that the qualifying deadline for candidates for Northern District Transportation Commissioner be at least 45 days prior to election day, to give elections officials the time needed to prepare ballots,” Hosemann said in the statement.
This places voting in January. The winner of the election will serve almost the final year of Minor’s four-year term.
Hosemann commented in a separate, earlier statement Monday on Minor’s death.
“I regret to learn of the passing of long-time state senator and Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor. Bill gave much of his life to serve our state. Many Mississippians will drive to the polls tomorrow on highways which are the fruits of his labor.”
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant also issued a statement on Minor’s passing.
“Deborah and I were saddened to hear of the untimely death of Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor. I have known Bill since his days in the state Senate as a dedicated public servant and a man of traditional honor. All those who knew Bill will miss him. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this difficult time.”
Editor’s note: The Associated Press contributed to this report.