By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Kim Eubank explained that her father, former House Speaker Billy McCoy, was not only a major political figure for more than three decades, but also a person who lived and raised a family in rural Prentiss County.
To prove the point, Eubank named the many Prentiss Countians who made the trip to the state capital Friday where on a warm September morning the vast, modern building housing the Mississippi Department of Transportation was dedicated as the “William J. ‘Billy’ McCoy Building.”
The dedication came complete with a nameplate on the front of the structure facing the southwest corner of the Capitol across the street and a plaque in the entrance of the building.
“We know the naming of a state building after someone does not happen often,” said Eubank, who spoke for her 70-year-old father who uncharacteristically sat silent for the 45-minute event. “We are humbled.”
At times, McCoy, sitting by his wife, Edith, held back tears as his daughter spoke.
Eubank said proudly “my daddy” will be known as “a hard-working” legislator who had a major influence in developing the state’s highway system and in developing the Adequate Education Program, but he also will be known “as a hard-nosed, somewhat cantankerous … worm farmer from the Appalachian foothills of Northeast Mississippi.”
She joked, “Patience is not his virtue. He is no Job.”
About 100 people attended the ceremony, ranging from former Gov. William Winter to friends and family from home.
Those friends included Becky Lambert, whose son Jonathan Lambert was killed in Iraq in 2003. McCoy spoke at the funeral.
Jimmy Murphy, a lifelong friend of McCoy, also made the trip with his wife, Jackie.
“He is truly a humble man,” said Murphy, a retired businessman, who said the two have told each other secrets that they would tell no one else.
Winter said, “This is well-deserved. He knew how to stand up for what he believed in.”
One of those things was highways. McCoy and former Rep. John David Pennebaker of New Albany have been given credit through the years for leading the effort to pass the 1987 Four-Lane Highway Bill. That effort led to the legislation enacted in 2011 to name the Department of Transportation building after the two-term speaker, who first came to the House in 1980 and retired in 2011.
Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, who was in the House with McCoy when the legislation passed, called it “the biggest economic improvement” in the state in the last 50 years and said “it was Billy McCoy’s leadership that made that happen.”
Former Rep. Bill Miles, D-Fulton, said McCoy believed good highways and education were the key to jobs.
After the event, McCoy said he is enjoying retirement with his wife, Edith, two children and five grandchildren.
Asked about the current political climate, he lamented at times it has become a “blood sport,” but said, “I don’t get embroiled in that too much. I try to be courteous with everyone. I have opinions, but I don’t try to put those out too much.”
McCoy said he has purchased a new farm near his home and he is staying busy with it.
Asked if he missed the Legislature, he said, “I miss the people. I don’t miss the process very much. I lived with that for a long time. I have another life now.”