HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Former state Sen. James L. "Jim" Bean, who championed rural health care and programs for children and the elderly, died Sunday in Hattiesburg. He was 80.
Officials with Hulett-Winstead Funeral Home said Bean died Sunday at Wesley Medical Center in Hattiesburg. He had suffered a stroke a few weeks earlier.
His widow, Peggy Bean, said visitation would begin at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Hulett-Winstead Funeral Home in Hattiesburg, to be followed by a funeral there at 2 p.m. and burial at Roseland Park Cemetery. A list of other survivors was not immediately available.
Bean, a Republican from Hattiesburg, represented Forrest, Lamar and Perry counties in the Senate from 1986 to 2000. He was chairman of the Public Health and Welfare Committee from 1996 to 2000. He previously was chairman of the Insurance Committee.
"He was a good man ... a good, good guy," said Sen. John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, who now serves the District 40 seat once held by Bean.
"When I decided to run, I went to see him. He asked me some very tough questions about what I thought and how I would do things. I talked with him frequently after I was elected to get his idea about things," Polk said.
Bean, who had owned an insurance agency and then a moving company, sold his business and retired. But he soon grew restless, Peggy Bean said.
"He played golf until he was tired of it," she said. "He decided he would run for a Senate seat."
Bean frequently reminded members of the Senate that he wanted issues explained in a way that non-lawyers could understand them.
"When Jim had something important to say, he would say 'I'm just an old truck driver,'" his wife recalled.
In 1995, the Senate, based upon a tradition in southern states that members of the state Senate were automatically admitted to the bar, named Bean an honorary attorney-at-law.
As chairman of the public health committee, he handled legislation on issues including Medicaid, welfare reform, nursing home care for the elderly, child residential care, managed health care, child support and foster child care.
Bean led efforts passing legislation establishing primary health care centers around the state. In 2000, the patient services building at South Mississippi State Hospital in Purvis was named in Bean's honor.
"He would be most humiliated at any accolades given to him," said Peggy Bean, who described her husband as reserved. "His ego did not have to be fed."
Bean also tried to rally support to get the Big Three college football programs to schedule games with each other.
A fan of the University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, Bean got the mandate through the Senate one year, only to see it defeated in the House. Bean didn't attend any of the universities — though he did represent the Hattiesburg area — and said it didn't make sense to play so many out of state teams when the money could be kept at home.
In 1998, he brought the issue up during Senate debate on a constitutional amendment involving the College Board. Many senators were away from their desks but heard over the intercom his proposal to make mandatory games part of the state's 1890 Constitution.
The commotion of "folks hustling to get back to the chambers sounded like a square dance," said Bean.
When Mississippi State University and USM announced in 2009 that they would resume play, Bean was elated.