Terry Brown, a Columbus native whose hearty and affable laugh echoed off state capitol walls in Jackson for nearly three decades, has died.
He was 64.
Brown died Thursday evening at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, according to Gary Chism.
Reached on Thursday evening, Chism, a longtime friend and fellow Columbus politician who serves in the state House of Representatives, said Brown was one of a kind.
“I never met anyone like him,” he said.
Brown, a Republican, was elected to the state house of representatives in 1988. He was elected to the state senate in 2003 and became President Pro Tempore of the Senate two years ago.
A tall, big man with a bigger smile who had broad shoulders and a loud voice, he came to embody Mississippi politics.
His politics leaned right. His friendships, though, spread to both sides of the aisle. Brown slapped the backs of childhood friends and first-time acquaintances with equal enthusiasm. He had a warmth about him that made everyone feel at ease.
“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.”
Born in 1950, Brown was the son of a car salesman and an assistant teacher turned homemaker. Friends say that at New Hope Elementary, where he attended grade school, he was already making a name for himself. Chism first encountered Brown in the first grade.
“He prepared for his job of being a state senator from the first grade,” Chism said. “He had this way about him. He could really charm the teachers and he charmed the girls to do his homework.”
Brown graduated New Hope High School in 1968. As a student at East Mississippi Junior College, he played football under Hall of Fame coach Bob “Bull” Sullivan, according to a state Senate news release. He was a defensive tackle and center. In 2011, he was chosen to enter EMCC’s Sports Hall of Fame.
He served six years in the National Guard. He worked with his father at Fletcher Motor Company in Columbus before opening Brown’s Superette in New Hope, according to his niece, Meredith Brown Weeks.
His wife of more than 35 years, Andra, and sons, Cody, Chas and Boomer, were the loves of his life. The family lived on Hillside Drive. Brown’s youngest son said the home was a joyful place always full of family and friends.
“He had three of us boys, but in reality he had 30-plus kids at least,” Boomer Brown said this morning. “He did whatever he could. If it meant anything to us three boys, he would do it for anyone of our friends. He was always giving advice.”
But few things inspired Brown more than Mississippi politics. He would get a certain twinkle in his eye when talking about state capitol happenings. His already larger than life personality would grow by leaps and bounds as he became animated, gesturing wildly with his hands while discussing his passion.
Doug Davis, a former state Senator from DeSoto County, first met Brown in 1999, when Brown made an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor. In that campaign, Davis was on the staff of Brown’s opponent. Even so, when contacted by The Dispatch this morning, Davis said, “Bragging on Terry is easy.”
“He was engaging, he was fun to be around,” he said. “When I think of Terry, I think of the adage, ‘You work hard. You play hard.’ He enjoyed life just about as much as anybody I’ve been around.”
Davis, elected to the state Senate in 2004, became close friends with Brown. They were roommates for a few legislative sessions.
“Terry did an outstanding job representing the people of his area,” Davis said. “His fingerprints are on a lot of the economic development that has come to the Golden Triangle in the last several years.”
When an economic development opportunity presented itself in the Golden Triangle, Brown “would be the lightening rod to carry it through the senate,” Chism said.
“From the governor to business owners to CEOs of these companies,” Chism added, “Terry would be the driving force to make sure legislation got passed.”
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. He 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. He said he was focused on the hundreds of thousands of Mississippi children who weren’t getting the payments they were entitled to receive.
Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer in October. Friends say he approached the illness the same way he approached politics on the senate floor: head on, with intensity.
In an interview with The Dispatch shortly after the diagnosis, Brown vowed to “whoop this thing.” The treatment wore him down, but he remained resilient to the end, friends and family said.
“I take real comfort in the fact that he isn’t struggling anymore,” Boomer Brown said. “He fought a really good fight. We battled it. We gave it all we had, but in the end it was time for him to go home.”
Visitation will be held at Pleasant Hill Church from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. The funeral, also at the church, will be at 1 p.m.
Dispatch reporter Nathan Gregory and Associated Press reporter Emily Wagster Pettus contributed to this report.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.