By Ernest Herndon
Former longtime state Sen. Bob Dearing, who died Thursday at 85, was remembered as a “statesman” and a “senator’s senator” by friends and colleagues.
Dearing, who represented Southwest Mississippi as a Democrat for nearly four decades, died in his hometown of Natchez.
Dearing served in the Senate from 1980 to 2011, when Republican Melanie Sojourner defeated him. He ran again in 2015 and won his seat back from Sojourner, served another term and chose not to seek reelection in 2019, when Sojourner ran again and reclaimed the seat.
“He was a senator’s senator,” said former Sen. Kelvin Butler from Magnolia, who was elected in 2003. “When I got elected he kind of just took me under his wing.
“He helped me in so many ways. I just know it was God-sent for me to get to Jackson because you’ve got a colleague from your area willing to work for the betterment of Southwest Mississippi and it just doesn’t get any better than that.”
Butler described Dearing as an easygoing man who never got angry and was glad to share credit — “just a giving person.”
Butler and Dearing worked together to fund the workforce training center at Southwest Mississippi Community College, among other projects.
Rep. Angela Cockerham, I-Magnolia, said she almost dropped the phone when she heard of Dearing’s passing.
“He had such a memorable smile,” she said. “He was always smiling. He loved Southwest Mississippi and he loved Mississippi, period. He was always willing to help you no matter what.”
She described him as a “statesman” who was known far and wide, especially in Natchez.
“Such a fine gentleman he was,” Cockerham said, “He gave his heart and soul to Mississippi and especially Southwest Mississippi.”
As a senator, “Bob was one of those people who really fought for what he believed in,” Cockerham said.
“He had served such a long time that he had a lot of historical knowledge.”
Dearing had served as chairman of the Senate Oil and Gas Committee and shared his knowledge of the topic when Cockerham chaired the House Energy Committee when the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale was flourishing.
“God bless his family, and I’m so thankful to God that I had the opportunity to work with him,” Cockerham said.
Former Rep. Bobby Moak, longtime chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party, took office, four years after Dearing did.
“Bob was a good guy,” Moak said. “He always amazed me. He was really a hard campaigner.”
Among projects they worked on together was making Okhissa Lake a reality.
“Bob was very instrumental on that project, and of course everything that had to do with roads,” Moak said.
“He would answer folks’ questions. That says a lot about leadership, when you do things that are right but not really popular yet.”
Dearing championed legislation setting penalties for cruelty to animals and would bring his pet dog to Moak’s office to discuss the topic.
“Bob was very personable,” Moak said. “He was a very likable guy. He was quite conversational with just about anybody — and hey, he liked to play golf.”
Dearing was born in 1935 to Weenonah Montgomery and Robert V. Dearing.
He was a graduate of Natchez High School, received his bachelor’s degree from Delta State Teachers College and his master’s in school administration from the University of Southern Mississippi.
He worked as a teacher, coach and principal in Natchez before being elected to the Senate District 37 seat in 1980.
He and his wife Shelley Paige Ditzler Dearing had three children, Bo, Daye and Paige.