Monday funeral set for former Miss. first lady Pat Fordice

Published 6:47 pm Friday, July 13, 2007

Funeral services will be held next week for former Mississippi first lady Pat Fordice, who is being remembered for her kindness and philanthropic work that benefited people from all walks of life.

Fordice died Thursday at her Madison home, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. She was 72. She had announced in December that she had cancer, but declined to identify the kind of cancer or to discuss her treatment.

Visitation will be 9 a.m. Monday at Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church in downtown Jackson, followed by funeral services at 11 a.m. at the church.

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“Pat Fordice was a model first lady. She represented our state with strength, dignity and grace. Her compassion and leadership served as an inspiration to those who knew her, and she will be missed,” Gov. Haley Barbour said in a statement.

Joanna Heidel, who was a friend of Fordice for more than two decades, described as loyal to her friends and family. Heidel said after Pat Fordice left the Governor’s Mansion, she stayed in contact with the people who had provided security for her there, sometimes going to the movies with them.

“That is a very wonderful fact of her personality that she considered them friends rather than people who worked for them. She was really one of the people,” Heidel said.

Fordice became a public figure after her then-husband Kirk Fordice, a brash, millionaire construction company owner, was elected in 1991 as Mississippi’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.

She was instrumental in bringing two popular international art exhibitions to Jackson. In 1996, “Palaces of St. Petersburg: Russian Imperial Style” featured tapestries, china, paintings and other glittering objects. Two years later, the “Splendors of Versailles,” featured French treasures.

Born Patricia Owens in 1934, she attended Christian College in Columbia, Mo., and Memphis State University in Tennessee. She and Kirk Fordice had known each other since they attended high school in Memphis, Heidel said.

The Fordices married in 1955 and moved to Vicksburg in 1962 so Kirk could join the family business, Fordice Construction Co. It was during the years in Vicksburg that Joanna Heidel and her husband, Jimmy, got to know Pat and Kirk Fordice. Jimmy Heidel was state economic development director when Kirk Fordice was governor.

“We traveled a lot with them. Not many people got to know her on the level that she could let go and have a good time. She loved to laugh,” Joanna Heidel said.

Joanna Heidel said Pat Fordice also maintained a friendship with the family of former President George Bush.

Martha Day, a close friend who once lived next door to the Fordices in Vicksburg, said Pat Fordice loved to travel abroad.

“For her 70th birthday, she took her daughters-in-laws to Italy. I loved to hear her talk about it. They went to the Vatican,” Day said.

In 1998, Pat Fordice showed her adventurous side in a parachute jump from an airplane. Her husband wasn’t there to witness her tandem jump, and by then there were signs that their marriage was in trouble.

The Fordices divorced in 2000 after 44 years of marriage. Kirk Fordice died of leukemia in 2004 at age 70.

After leaving the Governor’s Mansion in January 2000, Pat Fordice remained active as host of a radio talk show and co-host of a television talk show for Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

She also appeared in a series of commercials for Keep Mississippi Beautiful and the Mississippi Department of Transportation as part of an antilittering campaign.

In one ad, Fordice stopped a truck driven by a litterer, pointed a finger at him and chastised: “I’m not your mama.”

In recent years, Pat Fordice had supported the children’s hospital at the University of Mississippi, the Mississippi School for the Arts, the International Ballet Competition and the Special Olympics.

Pat Fordice is survived by three sons, a daughter and 12 grandchildren.