Former Rep. Whittington dies of cancer

Published 4:33 pm Thursday, July 13, 2006

Over dinner one night in 2000, four Mississippi House freshmen mapped out plans to derail a multimillion-dollar bond bill and tried to come up with an unofficial name for their newfound clique.

The Legislature already had a Black Caucus, and these lawmakers — though politically aligned with that group in many ways — were white. The Legislature also had a Conservative Coalition, and these four Democrats didn’t fit that description, either.

Rep. May Whittington, D-Schlater, slapped the restaurant table with the palm of her hand.

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“She said, ’I’ve got it. We’re the Raucous Caucus,”’ recalled another member of the group, Rep. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale.

Whittington — who earned a reputation as a strong advocate for education, public health and crime-victims’ rights — died Wednesday at her Delta home after a lengthy battle with cancer. She was 63.

Whittington was a licensed counselor had served in the Mississippi House since January 2000, representing a district that includes parts of Carroll and Leflore counties.

Services are 11 a.m. Saturday at Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Greenwood.

Whittington is the third state lawmaker to die this year. Sen. Billy Harvey, D-Prentiss, died of cancer March 2 at age 73. Sen. Robert “Bunky” Huggins, R-Greenwood, died of cancer May 2 at age 67. Whittington, a former smoker, had battled mouth cancer since 2001 and spoke at several anti-tobacco rallies for young people. She underwent reconstructive surgery on her jaw last year, and received a standing ovation from her House colleagues after returning to the Capitol.

Whittington’s husband, Aven, told friends that his wife died in her sleep late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said Whittington “met all the qualifications for an outstanding representative.”

“She was honest, she was hardworking, she cared for her people, she cared deeply about every man, woman and child in Mississippi,” McCoy said. “May showed us how to deal with the most adverse conditions in life.”

Rep. Cecil Brown of Jackson was a fellow member of the Raucous Caucus, along with Whittington, Mayo and Jay Eads of Oxford. Eads served in the House from 2000-2004 and is now an assistant secretary of state for elections.

Brown said Wednesday that Whittington was “one of the sweetest, smartest, hardest-working people I’ve ever met.”

“She never talked just about her district,” Brown said. “She talked about her area. She was concerned about the whole Delta.”

Mayo said that as late as this past Friday, Whittington was working to help constituents.

A young man in her district wanted to visit his mother in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. With her voice failing, Whittington asked her husband to make calls for the young man to arrange the visit, Mayo said.

During the 2006 legislative session, Whittington was the primary author of a new law that requires the Department of Corrections to give crime victims more information about the status of convicted criminals.

She also was co-author of a stronger new seat belt law that took effect in late May, and she fought for a law to ban hog-dog fights.

“It is a blood sport,” said Whittington said during House debate March 7.