By TIMOTHY R. BROWN
Associated Press Writer
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A rock 'n' roll pioneer, a former state
senator who worked to improve public education and an ex-judge
whose ruling led to the state of Mississippi taking over of death
row inmate appeals were among the notable Mississippi people who
died in 2008.
Revolutionary musician Bo Diddley, former state Sen. Grey
Ferris, and Circuit Judge Elzy J. Smith all left their marks in
Born Ellas Bates on Dec. 30, 1928, in McComb, Diddley was raised
by his mother's cousin, Gussie McDaniel. The family moved to
Chicago when Diddley was a young child and he became one of the
founding fathers of rock 'n' roll music.
He died in June in Florida.
"Bo Diddley was a music pioneer and legend with a unique
style," blues entertainer B.B. King, a Mississippi native, said in
a statement after Diddley's death. "He will truly be missed, but
his legacy will live on forever."
Diddley, 79, became a music icon after topping the R&B charts
with "Bo Diddley" in 1955. His other hits included "Say Man,"
"You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover," "Shave and a Haircut,"
"Uncle John," "Who Do You Love?" and "The Mule."
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and
received a lifetime achievement Grammy Award in 1998. Diddley
garnered attention from a new generation in 1989 when he took part
in a Nike ad campaign, built around football and baseball star Bo
Commenting on Jackson's guitar skills, Diddley turned to the
camera and said, "Bo, you don't know Diddley."
Ferris served two terms in the state Senate from 1992-2000, was
a lead author of the Mississippi Adequate Education Act of 1997,
and served as chairman of the Senate Education Committee. He ran
for lieutenant governor in 1999, losing in the Democratic primary,
and was a board member of the William Winter Institute for Racial
"I think that everyone in the Senate, even those who had
different political views, respected Grey," Sen. Hob Bryan,
D-Amory said after Ferris' death. "Just through force of
personality, he commanded a great deal of respect."
Ferris, 62, died in June of cancer.
Smith left his mark when he ruled that Quitman County could sue
to try to force the state of Mississippi, not local governments, to
pay for the defense and appeals of criminal defendants.
Quitman County sued the state after it was forced to raise taxes
to pay several hundred thousand dollars in court costs in the early
1990s related to the appeals of two men convicted of killing four
members of a family.
Although Quitman County eventually lost the case, Smith's ruling
led state lawmakers in 2000 to create the Mississippi Office of
Capital Post-Conviction Counsel, which represents death row inmates
on appeal, taking the financial burden off county governments.
Smith, 79, died in September.
Some notable figures from the civil rights era also died in
John Ed Cothran, 93, a former Leflore County deputy sheriff who
was at the center of the investigation into the 1955 slaying of
Emmett Till, died in March. On Aug. 31, 1955, Cothran, then chief
deputy, helped pull Till's bloated and mutilated body out of the
Till, a black 14-year-old visiting from Chicago, was reported to
have whistled at Carolyn Bryant at the Bryant Meat Market and
Grocery in the rural community of Money. Later that evening, Till
was taken from his uncle's home by Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam.
Cothran picked up Bryant and Milam for questioning.
He later testified for the prosecution at the Tallahatchie
County trial of Bryant and Milam, who were acquitted by an
all-white jury. Two months later, Cothran testified before a
Leflore County grand jury that failed to indict Bryant and Milam on
Bryant and Milam later confessed in a Look magazine article that
they had killed Till.
In October, Roy K. Moore, 94, an FBI agent who oversaw
investigations into some of the most notorious civil rights-era
killings, including those depicted in the movie "Mississippi
Moore had established a solid reputation in the FBI when bureau
director J. Edgar Hoover sent him to Mississippi in 1964 after the
disappearance of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James
Chaney and Andrew Goodman. Their bodies were dug out of an earthen
dam in Neshoba County.
Nineteen men were indicted in 1967 on federal charges of
violating the civil rights of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman. Seven
were tried and convicted.
Here is a roll call of other notables who died in 2008:
Tally D. Riddell Sr., 95, was a former state lawmaker and member
of the state College Board. Riddell, a native of Lauderdale County,
served in the state Senate from 1940-44 and was an alderman in
Quitman from 1949-53. He served on the College Board from 1956-68.
Fred Johnson, 68, was Pike County's first black sheriff. Johnson
served as sheriff from 1996-2004. Johnson worked 18 years at the
McComb Police Department and 17 years simultaneously in the Summit
Police Department before running for sheriff.
Obie Clark, 75, was a former president of the Meridian NAACP in
east Mississippi. Clark led the local NAACP chapter from 1969 to
2003. During the late 1960s, he helped protect black churches in
Meridian against attacks by the Ku Klux Klan.
Lawrence W. Rabb, 87, was a Meridian attorney who fought for
civil rights in courtrooms and communities in Mississippi. In the
1960s, Rabb and his law partner filed a landmark federal lawsuit
that forced Lauderdale County, and eventually all counties, to
redraw county supervisor districts following the "one-man,
Howard Leroy Hobbs, 73, was a former Harrison County sheriff
known for his tailored suits and ties to the Dixie Mafia. Hobbs
served as sheriff for 12 years, however, he also spent almost 12
years in federal prison for racketeering and drug conspiracy. His
career crumbled in 1983 when he was arrested in a federal sting.
Former state Sen. Ollie Mohamed, 83, served in public office for
more than 30 years and sponsored legislation that led to creation
of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. Mohamed served more than 20
years in the Senate.
Former Rankin County Sheriff J.B. Torrence, 78, was a
by-the-book law enforcement officer whose career spanned 40 years.
Torrence served 24 years as sheriff, from 1972-96. Before winning
election in 1971, Torrence was a deputy sheriff and constable in
Jack Lucas, 80, was 14 when he lied his way into military
service during World War II and became the youngest Marine to
receive the Medal of Honor. Lucas was just six days past his 17th
birthday in February 1945 when his heroism at Iwo Jima earned him
the nation's highest military honor.
The Rev. Bill Barton Sr., 83, was credited with helping more
than 40,000 people recover from drug and alcohol addictions. Barton
founded the Home of Grace, a Christian recovery program, in 1965
with his wife, Jean.
Jackson florist Brook Jacobs, 60, started the annual "Good
Neighbor" rose giveaway that has become a nationwide event. Jacobs
operated Greenbrook Flowers in Jackson and Ridgeland and gave away
a dozen roses to each customer as long as they gave all but one to
Former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Joe Zuccaro practiced
law in Natchez for over three decades. Zuccaro, 84, was appointed
to the state Supreme Court in 1987, by then-Gov. Bill Allain.
William Henry Holman Jr., 78, ran the family owned Jitney-Jungle
Stores of America for 34 years. In 1967, he was elected president
and served as chief executive until 1998.
Martha Butcher Skelton, 89, was a renowned quilter whose work
was displayed in the Smithsonian and other venues. Skelton was
considered one of America's best-known quilters.
Leo Seal Jr., 84, succeeded his father as president of Hancock
Bank in 1963 and continued to serve president of Hancock Holding
Company and chairman of Hancock Bank when he died after an extended
illness. Seal spent more than 60 years in the banking industry.
The Rev. Frank Pollard, 74, was a former president of the
Mississippi Baptist Convention and the former pastor of First
Baptist Church of Jackson. Pollard served two one-year terms as
president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention in 2002 and 2003.
George M. Harmon, 74, served as president of Millsaps College
for more than 20 years. He took the helm of the small private
liberal arts college in 1978 as its ninth president. He retired in