May 30 (UPI) -- Former Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran -- who served in Congress for more than four decades before his retirement last month -- died on Thursday. He was 81.
Cochran died Thursday morning at a veterans' home in Oxford, his former congressional office said.
The Mississippi Republican served in the Senate from 1978 to April 1, when he resigned due to health issues. Before the Senate, he began the first of two terms in the House of Representatives in 1973. He served on the powerful Senate appropriations committee in the mid 2000s and during his final term. He's also a veteran of the U.S. Navy.
"One of Mississippi's greatest public servants passed today," Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said in a statement. "His life's work is imprinted on each of us through his leadership in education, agriculture, hurricane relief and his calm approach tot he major issues impacting our state and our country."
Cochran was known as "Gentleman Thad" by his peers in Congress and Time Magazine called him "The Quiet Persuader" for the consensus building he did behind the scenes.
"When I say he preferred making a difference to making a fuss, I really mean it," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
Cochran was born Dec. 7, 1937, in Pontotoc, Miss., and spent many summers at the University of Mississippi, where his parents, both educators, pursued master's degrees. In 1946, the Cochran family moved to Byram, Miss., outside Jackson.
He played sports, musical instruments, became an Eagle Scout and participated in church activities. He joined the U.S. Naval Reserve after graduation in 1959 and served on a heavy cruiser until it was decommissioned, and then was assigned to the staff of the Commandant of the Eighth Naval District in New Orleans. After law school, Cochran joined Jackson firm Watkins & Eager and made a partner after two and a half years.