TUPELO • Billy J. McCoy, the former speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, died on Tuesday at North Mississippi Medical Center after receiving treatment at the hospital for two weeks. He was 77.
McCoy, a Democrat, was first elected to the House in 1980 as a representative from Rienzi, a town in Alcorn County. He then went on to be elected by his fellow House members in 2004 to serve in one of the most powerful roles in state government.
“A great man, a great legend in Mississippi history has crossed the chilling waters of Jordan,” longtime state Rep. Steve Holland said. “His service will go down in history as one of the most progressive members of the Mississippi House of Representatives. He loved the last and most vulnerable among us.”
McCoy was the personification of a “Blue Dog Democrat” from Northeast Mississippi and used his position to advocate for progressive reforms throughout the state. He served as Speaker when the Republican Party was starting to gain control of almost every avenue of state government.
Part of his tenure as leader of the House was when Republican Phil Bryant was lieutenant governor and when Republican Haley Barbour was in the governor’s mansion. In an attempt to have a more conservative official take control of the House, state Rep. Jeff Smith attempted to challenge McCoy for the Speaker position. However, in a dramatic and close vote, McCoy was ultimately re-elected to the post by a close margin. He announced in 2011 that he would not be seeking re-election.
“I loved him like a brother,” Holland said. “He was my desk mate for 28 years. I’m going to miss him.”
A service celebrating his life will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at Gaston Baptist Church, where he was a longtime member. Visitation will be from 4-8 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m. to service time Friday at the church. Holland Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.