By: Sid Salter
Driving back from a weekend in Lower Alabama, my friend Lee Weiskopf sent a text just as we were leaving Orange Beach telling me that former Lt. Gov. Brad Dye had died. Before we made it past the Mobile Bay Bridge, Lee texted again: “Now, we’ve lost Paul Ott, too.”
Both of the sad notices of the deaths of two old friends gave me lots to think about on a long drive back to Mississippi.
A lifelong conservative Democrat, Brad Dye remains the only Mississippian to serve three consecutive terms as lieutenant governor of the state with that service coming after Dye won election to both the state House and the state Senate.
Dye was elected to the state House in 1959 and moonlighted – yes – on the staff of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee under the wing of Democratic Mississippi U.S. Sen. James O. “Big Jim” Eastland. He won election to the state Senate in 1963, but would resign to take a position as head of the state Worker’s Compensation Commission.
He managed John Bell Williams’ successful 1967 gubernatorial campaign and was rewarded with being named director of the Mississippi Agricultural and Industrial Board, the forerunner of the present Miss. Development Authority.
Dye won election as state treasurer in 1971 and from that post launched a bid for lieutenant governor against Evelyn Gandy, who defeated him. But Dye would win the post in 1979 and serve there from 1980 to 1992.
With Mississippi’s Republican tide rising, Dye lost his bid for a fourth term as lieutenant governor to Republican state Sen. Eddie Briggs of DeKalb in 1991. He would not seek public office again, but remained active in the practice of law and in civic and charitable activities for the rest of his life.
As a young reporter, I learned so much about the legislative process from Dye. My associations with veteran newspapermen Gale Denley and W.C. “Dub” Shoemaker helped me gain access to Dye that I would not have otherwise enjoyed.
Brad Dye was a master of the politics of legislative negotiation and compromise. He was unafraid to cross partisan, racial, sectional, or factional lines to get the business of the Legislature done. He kept his fences mended with the House and with Speaker C.B. “Buddie” Newman and his key committee chairman.
He was deferential to the governors in office during his tenure – William Winter, Bill Allain and Ray Mabus – but in truth they needed Dye’s support more than he needed theirs with the exception of Winter. Dye’s respect for Winter was obvious and he took some political bullets in support of helping Winter pass the Education Reform Act of 1982.
Dye held political court often at the Coliseum Ramada Inn in Jackson during the legislative sessions. The popular watering hole drew lobbyists like flies to honey. Dye, unlike some politicians, shared some of those unguarded moments with reporters and I was one of them.
My experiences with Paul Ott Carruth, the talented musician, songwriter, radio and television personality and all-around good old boy, were more personal. We came to know each other through a common friendship with Nashville entertainer Jerry Clower of Liberty.
Back in my weekly newspaper publisher days in Forest, Paul Ott would call often and tell me that he was driving through Scott County and wanted to stop by to visit. Often, he was accompanied by kindred spirit and fellow entertainer Justin Wilson – the Cajun storyteller and chef. More than once, I joined Carruth and Wilson on their road excursions – and rarely said a word as I listened to the two of them swap stories and lies.
Paul Ott Carruth loved the outdoors, loved Mississippi and was a patriot who loved his country. Most Mississippians remember Paul Ott’s public performances in which he would sing his signature song “Ole Blue” about a favored hound dog. The chorus would come when Paul Ott would assemble members of the audience as his “pack of hounds” to “howl” for “Old Blue.”
It occurred to me driving home after learning of the deaths of these two notable Mississippians that I had “howled” with both of them – with Paul Ott Carruth on stage while he sang of “Old Blue” at convention performances and with Brad Dye while he celebrated Senate victories or sang the political blues on occasion at his table at the Coliseum Ramada Inn bar.
Both experiences were educational in the extreme and Mississippi seemed richer with both those characters – children of the Great Depression – among our citizenry. They both used their disparate talents and unique abilities to leave Mississippi better than they found it.