Highway named for ex-lawmaker who worked for road expansion


JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Friends, family and former colleagues gathered Monday in Booneville to remember former Mississippi House Speaker Billy McCoy and to unveil a sign that names a segment of a highway in his honor.

McCoy was 77 when he died in November 2019. The farmer from Rienzi was a self-described Franklin D. Roosevelt New Deal Democrat who was first elected to the state House in 1979. McCoy was speaker of the 122-member House during his final two terms, from January 2004 to January 2012.

McCoy — known for down-home turns of phrase and the occasional flash of temper — was instrumental in passing the 1987 Highway Program that led to construction of hundreds of miles of four-lane roads across Mississippi, including in rural areas struggling for economic development.

Legislators in 2020 passed House Bill 1279, naming segments of highways, including the stretch of U.S. 45 in Prentiss and Alcorn counties in honor of McCoy. Both counties were in his House district.

Democrat Steve Holland of Plantersville, who served in the House from January 1984 to January 2020, said Monday that McCoy would pick him up in an old blue Oldsmobile and they would ride the backroads of Mississippi together, stopping at country stores to see what was on people’s minds.

“I don’t need a sign to remember him,” Holland said. “But, my goodness, what a wonderful way because the guy loved the roads. He loved riding them, and he loved seeing people.”

Monday’s ceremony was livestreamed from Gaston Baptist Church — the same place McCoy’s funeral was held. His daughter, Kim Eubank, said a portion of the highway that will bear his name is down the road from his childhood home. She said he spoke in 1994 when the four-lane highway was dedicated, recalling how he and his friends used to hunt and fish in the area.

“There is not a time that I drive on any four-lane highway in Mississippi, and especially Highway 45, that I don’t whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for my crusty daddy,” Eubank said.

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