Former Miss. land commissioner dies

Published 12:49 pm Wednesday, May 12, 2010

John Ed Ainsworth, Mississippi’s last public land commissioner, has died at the age of 66.

Ainsworth served as land commissioner from 1976 to 1980, though he called for the abolishment of the post to make state government more efficient. The commissioner’s duties were folded into the secretary of state’s office in 1980.

Ainsworth worked to make 16th Section lands more profitable for the school districts that benefit from them. He advocated placing limits on the terms of leases and seeking competitive bids to ensure income was on par with private land.

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“He was a visionary,” Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said. “He could see the possibilities.”

Mississippi’s 16th Section lands raised $77 million this year and its forestry value is more than $1 billion, according to The Clarion-Ledger.

“He was a good man and a bona fide Mississippi character,” former Secretary of State Dick Molpus said of Ainsworth, whom he had beat for the secretary of state’s office in 1983.

“It was ironic that we ran against each other because he went on to become one of my strongest allies,” Molpus said.

Ainsworth also supported legalized gambling in Mississippi.

“John Ed was one of the most informed experts on gaming laws in the South,” state Sen. Tommy Gollott, R-Biloxi, said in a statement. “He helped pass legalized gaming in Mississippi in 1992 and assisted us in the Mississippi Legislature in setting up the gaming laws that are a model for the nation.”

Ainsworth is survived by his ex-wife, Nan, and three adult sons. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday at Wright and Ferguson Funeral Home in Madison. Visitation begins at 1 p.m.