Mississippi Speaker of the House Billy McCoy believed in the power of better roads to transform the state of Mississippi and on Monday his name was officially placed on a section of one of the four-lane highways he fought to create in the home he loved and served.
The section of US Highway 45 from one mile north of the Highway 356 intersection to two miles south of the intersection was dedicated Monday as the “Speaker William J “Billy” McCoy Memorial Highway” in a celebration held at McCoy’s home church, Gaston Baptist Church, that brought together legislators and leaders from across the state to honor the veteran legislator and House of Representatives speaker who died in November 2019.
“Every single inch of highway asphalt in this state bears Billy McCoy’s fingerprints. There’s nothing more appropriate than Highway 45 in Alcorn and Prentiss County being named after this great man. He changed a generation of us in a way which I don’t think I can adequately explain,” said close friend and Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley.
McCoy served 32 consecutive years in the legislature and led the house of representatives as speaker from 2004 until his retirement in 2012. He was one of the key architects of the 1987 Highway Program which funded the creation of a network of four-lane highways throughout the state and is credited with helping push the bill through the legislature and overcome a veto by the governor to bring it into law. He was also an advocate for education who played a vital role in the 1997 Mississippi Adequate Education Program, helped create and improve mental health programs in the state and led numerous other efforts to improve the state and the lives of its people.
Presley said his friend and mentor believed in caring for individuals and the power of public service to transform lives. He recalled him keeping notebooks listing the calls from constituents who needed help.
“He took their burdens and he made it his burden,” said Presley.
The commissioner said McCoy understood deep in his heart what it meant to be a public servant and never forgot why he was in Jackson.
“Everything in public service that’s good, that’s honorable, that’s full of integrity, that man was it,” said Presley.
Prentiss County Chancery Clerk David “Bubba” Pounds was also among McCoy’s close friends and said the late speaker taught him what it meant to serve his community.
“He was a hero to many, a friend to all and an outstanding public servant,” he said.
Alcorn County Chancery Clerk Greg Younger said McCoy’s legacy will continue to be felt for generations across the state and especially in Northeast Mississippi.
“I will guarantee you, when Billy McCoy was in the legislature they knew where Prentiss and Alcorn County were and that’s why naming this portion of this highway is so appropriate,” he said.
Mississippi Northern District Transportation Commissioner John Caldwell said more important than McCoy’s long list of accomplishments, he was a man whose character is seen in the love of those he loved.
“One of the things that’s a testimony to speaker Billy McCoy is the people who know him best loved him best and that’s very evident as people came today from all across the state of Mississippi to pay tribute,” said Caldwell.
The highway marker will be a lasting reminder of McCoy’s legacy, he said.
“I look forward to driving by those signs and being reminded of a person who was loved, respected and made a difference,” he said.
Mississippi Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn recalled McCoy’s daughter reaching out to him about sponsoring a bill to name a road for her father. He said there was no one he could think of who deserved it more and through his service as speaker he’s come to better understand and appreciate in an even greater way the accomplishments of McCoy and the challenges he faced achieving them. Gunn said McCoy was dedicated and devoted to his family and to the people of his state.
“He devoted his life to us. Mississippi is a better place because of what he did. All of us have benefited because of the service and life of Billy McCoy,” said Gunn.
Longtime friend and retired state house member Steve Holland recalled numerous stories of his times and travels with McCoy and said his friend was a devoted family man who truly loved the people he served and believed in giving his all to making a difference.
Former state representative Bo Eaton recalled McCoy talking about his parents and the challenges they faced growing up. He said the legendary legislator had the state and its people at heart in all he did and was a master at creating consensus to get good things to happen.
“Billy McCoy would not want me to stand here and say he did anything. He would want me to stand here and say we all did it,” he said.
McCoy’s daughter, Kim McCoy Eubank, spoke on behalf of the family and thanked all those involved in honoring her father. She said the man she knew loved his family and loved people and wanted to make a difference. She’s thankful to see the highway carry his name because he believed in it so much.
“Billy McCoy was just an ordinary man who had an extraordinary vision to make the roads of Mississippi better and to see her prosper with the addition of industries that would come through an updated transportation system. He believed in this program so much that he staked his political career on it,” she said.