Barbour: Medal honors 11 for distinguished careers

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON — Gov. Haley Barbour on Wednesday honored 11 people with the Mississippi Medal of Service, saying their work in business, education, entertainment, politics and the judiciary has made the state a better place to live.

Barbour presented the medals during a ceremony at the Woolfolk state office building in downtown Jackson.

Among the recipients was Reuben Anderson, a Jackson native who grew up during segregation in the 1950s and 1960s and worked as a civil-rights attorney. In 1985, Anderson became the first black justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court when he was appointed by then-Gov. Bill Allain. Anderson served on the Supreme Court six years before returning to private practice.

Barbour created the Medal of Service award two years ago to recognize people whose work has boosted the state. The Republican governor’s second term ends in January.

The other recipients this year are:

— Businessman Jim Barksdale, a Jackson native and former president and chief executive officer of Netscape Communications Corp. In 2000, he and his late wife, Sally, donated $100 million to establish the Barksdale Reading Institute, which has boosted literacy efforts across Mississippi. After Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Barbour appointed Barksdale to lead a recovery commission.

— Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, a Pontotoc native who grew up in Byram. After serving in the Navy and practicing law in Jackson, Cochran was elected to the U.S. House in a central Mississippi district in 1972 and to the U.S. Senate in 1978. He is the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

— Former University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert Khayat, a Moss Point native. Khayat played for the NFL’s Washington Redskins from 1960 to 1964. He earned a law degree from Yale and was a law professor at his undergraduate alma mater, the University of Mississippi, before being chosen Ole Miss chancellor in 1995. He retired in 2009.

— Blues legend B.B. King, who grew up in the Mississippi Delta. .King has released more than 50 albums and achieved worldwide fame in a career that spans back to the late 1940s. King was not scheduled to attend the medal ceremony.

— Former University of Southern Mississippi President Aubrey Lucas, a native of State Line, Miss. Lucas served four years as president of Delta State University four years before serving 22 years in the presidency of USM . Lucas was the state’s interim commissioner for higher education from 2008 to 2009.

— Democratic Mississippi House Speaker Billy McCoy, a Rienzi native. McCoy was elected to the Mississippi House in 1980 and has served as chairman of several powerful committees, including Education and Ways and Means. He was elected speaker in 2004 and 2008, and is not seeking re-election to the House this year.

— Former Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge Mary Libby Payne. She was among the first group of judges — and was the first woman — on the Court of Appeals. She served from January 1995 through July 2001.

— Former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Ed Pittman who grew up in Hattiesburg. He served in the Mississippi Senate from 1964 to 1972; as state treasurer from 1976 to 1980; as secretary of state from 1980 to 1984; and as attorney general from 1984 to 1988. He served on the state Supreme Court from January 1989 through March 2004. He was chief justice from January 2001 until he retired.

— Former state Board of Education member Lucimarian Roberts, who grew up in Ohio and has lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast since 1975. She was the first black woman to chair of the Mississippi Board of Education and the first black woman president of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum Commission.

— Jackson businessman Cornelius Turner. He established a contracting company Major Associates Inc., in 1963, and was one of the first black contractors in Mississippi to become bonded. Barbour said Turner once shared an office with Medgar Evers, the Mississippi NAACP leader who was assassinated in Jackson in 1963. Turner’s company has worked on several large construction projects, including the $52 million Capital City Convention Center in Jackson.

Click video to hear audio