By Emily Wagster Pettus
JACKSON – Mississippi Senate President Pro Tempore Terry Brown, a longtime lawmaker known for his booming voice and skepticism about government programs, died Thursday after undergoing treatment for lung cancer. He was 64.
“Terry was larger than life,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said in a statement. “With his quick wit and gift for storytelling, Terry could leave a room in stitches. I was proud to call him a friend.”
Gov. Phil Bryant expressed sympathy to Brown’s family for their loss.
“Terry was a true conservative and a man’s man,” Bryant said. “He was someone who I always loved and whose company I enjoyed. I pray God will assuage the pain of his wonderful wife and children. Tonight he walks the streets of glory.”
Brown, a Republican from Columbus, had served in the Senate since 2004 in a district that’s entirely in Lowndes County. He was in the Mississippi House from 1988 to 2000, and ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 1999.
In 2011, Brown helped Reeves – then a two-term state treasurer – win a contentious Republican primary for lieutenant governor. The campaign built a bond of trust between Reeves and the generation-older Brown. In early 2012, with Reeves’ support, Brown was elected by his 51 Senate colleagues as president pro tem. In that role, he presided over the chamber when the lieutenant governor was away.
“He was a Senator’s Senator,” Reeves said. “His experience in the Legislature combined with the respect he earned in both the House and Senate meant he knew how to move bills through the process and get things done.”
Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013, and Reeves said Brown had been recently hospitalized for aggressive treatment.
Brown was a member of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, and often asked tough questions of state agency leaders about their annual requests for funding. When the Department of Public Safety requested a significant increase during budget hearings in September 2013, for example, Brown pushed the department’s leaders to justify their numbers.
“I understand that you’ve got needs,” Brown said. “Everyone that comes before us has got needs.”
Brown often tried to reduce the size of government and he supported letting private companies take over some traditional government programs. In March 2013, he helped explain a bill that eventually became law, allowing the state Department of Human Services to hire private companies to help with collection of overdue child support payments. Brown repeatedly told senators he couldn’t answer specific questions about how privatization would work but said he was willing to try it. Brown said he was focused on the hundreds of thousands of Mississippi children who weren’t getting the payments they were entitled to receive.
“There’s no perfect program – I’ve learned that in my time in government,” Brown said. “I’m willing to try this. If it doesn’t work we can always change it.”
Brown had been a business consultant in recent years. He previously owned and operated convenience stores and automobile dealerships.
As a student at East Mississippi Junior College, Brown played football under Hall of Fame coach Bob “Bull” Sullivan, according to a state Senate news release. It said that as a defensive tackle and center, he helped lead the Lions to a two-year record of 16-3, including a state runner-up finish in 1969. He was chosen for the school’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.
Brown served six years in the U.S. Army before attending Delta State University and Mississippi State University. He is survived by his wife, Andra, and three sons.
Visitation for Brown will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Columbus. The funeral service will follow at 1 p.m., and interment will be in Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Columbus. Arrangements are provided by Lowndes Funeral Home.