First Woman to Hold Statewide Office, Evelyn Gandy Dies - - Jackson, MS

Jackson 12/24/07

First Woman to Hold Statewide Office, Evelyn Gandy Dies

by Jon Kalahar

The first woman to hold three statewide offices in Mississippi has died.  Evelyn Gandy served Mississippi like no other.  But those who knew her best say we've lost more than just a politician.

Evelyn Gandy's life is one of firsts. She was the only woman in her graduating class from Ole Miss Law School and the first woman editor of the Mississippi Law Review. She worked for Mississippi Governor and U-S Senator Theodore Bilbo. It was 1947 when she was first elected to the state House of Representatives.It was there she met William Winter.

"She had confidence in her ability, and yet still possessed those qualities ladies from Mississippi are supposed to have; she was gracious and kind, compassionate, gave of herself," said Winter.

She co-authored the legislation that created the University of Mississippi Medical Center. But she had bigger goals in mind. Gandy was the first woman to be appointed Assistant Attorney General in 1959 and the same year was elected Mississippi's State Treasurer, making her the first woman to hold a statewide office.

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice, former Treasurer and Attorney General, Ed Pittman is a distant relative to Gandy, and grew up with her in Hattiesburg.

"She was often first inside the family. My own father would tell me you can't run for that if Evelyn is going to run and maybe because she was the oldest, I had to let her go first in the family," said Pittman.

Pittman says it was Gandy's father who made her believe nothing was out of her reach.

"I think and hope she lived up to the expectations of her father, who she said put her on the kitchen table and said you can be anything you want to be," said Pittman.

And now it is Gandy who is the figure inspiring women in politics today. Alice Clark has served 22 years in the state legislature.

"She was the very first long distance call that I got and she was about as excited as I was, and I was amazed at how happy she was for me, and to me the state has really lost a stateswoman," said Clark.

Gandy was elected Insurance Commissioner and later Lieutenant Governor, but she never could make the next step. She lost the gubernatorial primaries in both 1979 to Winter and 1983 to Bill Allain. Some say it was because many black voters still connected her to Theodore Bilbo, a segregationist. Others believe Mississippi wasn't ready for a female governor. George Dale, who replaced Gandy as Insurance Commissioner, says one thing's for sure: when you look back at Mississippi history, Gandy will have a prominent place in it.

"So in this last century, probably Evelyn Gandy's name stood out in the annals of Mississippi politics on the state level with the greats of all time," said Dale.

Governor Haley Barbour had this to say on the passing of Gandy: "Evelyn Gandy was a pathfinder in Mississippi.  She broke the glass ceiling for women in politics and government, nd did it with dignity and calm effectiveness."

Funeral arrangements are not known at this time.  But there will be a service in Jackson with a funeral in Hattiesburg, both taking place sometime after Christmas. Eveyln Gandy was 87 years old.  

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