Evelyn Gandy

IntroAmerican politician
Was Lawyer 
Politician 
From United States of America 
Type Law 
Politics 
Genderfemale
Birth 4 September 1920 
, Hattiesburg
Death 23 December 2007 

(aged 87 years)

Edythe Evelyn Gandy (September 4, 1920 – December 23, 2007) was an American politician who was the first female elected to a statewide office in Mississippi– that of Treasurer for the State of Mississippi. Later, she was elected insurance commissioner and 26th Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi.

Early life

Born in Hattiesburg, Gandy attended the University of Southern Mississippi and studied law at the University of Mississippi School of Law in Oxford. As the only woman in her 1943 law school class, she won the state oratorical contest. She was also the first woman editor of the Mississippi Law Journal and the first woman to be elected president of the law school student body.

Following graduation from law school, Gandy served as secretary and campaign assistant to segregationist Mississippi Governor and United States Senator Theodore Bilbo. After Bilbo’s death in 1947, Gandy returned to Hattiesburg to practice law.

Political life

A Democrat, Gandy was elected in 1947 to the Mississippi House of Representatives from Forrest County. Gandy earned a more progressive record in the statehouse, having supported legislation that favored increased funding for education and improved access to human services. Gandy also co-authored legislation that would create the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the state’s only medical school and teaching hospital at the time.

In 1959, Gandy was the first woman to be appointed Mississippi’s Assistant Attorney General, and in the same year, she was elected state treasurer, the first woman to have been elected to a statewide constitutional office. As treasurer, Gandy was the first to require that state monies be maintained in interest- bearing accounts. In 1963, she was elected to a second term as treasurer without opposition.

In 1972, she became the first woman elected as Insurance Commissioner, a position through which she worked to tighten regulations and scrutiny on the insurance industry.

In 1975, Gandy was elected Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi, the first woman to hold that office in Mississippi, and one of the first women in the country to hold such a seat in state government.

Gandy was defeated twice in her bids for the Office of Governor of Mississippi. She ran for governor in 1979 but was defeated in the Democratic primary runoff primary by William Winter, 386,174 (56.6 percent) to 295,835 (43.4 percent). Eliminated in the primary was Jim Herring, a lawyer from Canton, who left the party and from 2001 to 2008 served as the Mississippi Republican Party chairman. Gandy lost the 1983 Democratic primary as well to Attorney General William “Bill” Allain, 405,348 (52.4 percent) to 367,953 (47.5 percent)). On her death, Winter called his former intraparty rival Gandy “one of Mississippi’s most conscientious and able public leaders.” While Gandy renounced her segregationist views in her gubernatorial campaigns, it is believed that those positions and her close relationship with Bilbo eroded her support among African Americans, a key segment of voters in the Mississippi Democratic Party. From 1983 until her death, she was engaged in private law practice in Hattiesburg. Gandy remained active in Mississippi Democratic politics until her death. She publicly endorsed Al Gore for U.S. President in 2000 and also attended Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean’s visit to Mississippi in 2005.

Death

Gandy died at age 87 after a lengthy bout with progressive supranuclear palsy, a debilitating illness similar to Parkinson’s disease. She never married or had children.

Her body lay in state on December 27, 2007, in the rotunda of the Mississippi State Capitol building in downtown Jackson. U.S. and Mississippi flags on all state buildings and grounds were flown at half-staff from sunrise on December 27, 2007 until sunset on December 28, 2007.

Legacy

In 2006, the Evelyn Gandy Parkway was opened, near Petal in her native Forrest County.

Awards and honors

  • State of Alabama Honorary Lieutenant Colonel Aide-de-camp, commissioned by Alabama Governor George Wallace; 1972
  • State of Kentucky Kentucky Colonel, commissioned by Kentucky Governor Wendell H. Ford; 1972
  • Mississippi College Service of Humanity Award; 1976
  • Blue Mountain College Honorary Degree of Doctor of Law; 1977
  • Paul Harris Fellow-Rotary Club 1978;
  • National Mental Health Association Humanitarian Award; 1979
  • Mississippi State University Mississippi Woman of the Year Award; 1980
  • State of Mississippi Mississippian of the Year in Government; 1981
  • Exchange Club “Golden Deeds” Award; 1982
  • Mississippi College School of Law Award for Excellence in Law; 1984
  • Mississippi Women’s Political Caucus Susan B. Anthony Award for Outstanding Service to the State of Mississippi; 1984
  • University of Southern Mississippi Alumni Hall of Fame;1985
  • Mississippi University for Women Medal of Excellence;1991
  • The Mississippi Bar Lifetime Achievement Award; 1994
  • Women’s Political Network First Annual Award for Distinguished Service; 1994
  • Mississippi Democratic Party James O. Eastland Award; 1995
  • American Bar Association Margaret Brant Women Lawyers of Achievement Award; 1997
  • Mississippi Association of Women Lawyers Lifetime Achievement Award; 1998
  • Hattiesburg Women’s Forum Leadership Award; 1998
  • Lindy Boggs Women in Public Service Award; 1998
  • The Mississippi Bar Chief Justice Award; 1998
  • The Mississippi Bar Susie Blue Buchanan Award; 2003
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