The son of career educators, Thad Cochran was born in Pontotoc, Mississippi. Throughout his early school career, Thad enjoyed great success. When the Cochran family moved to the Byram community of Hinds County near Jackson, there was much time devoted to sports, music, the Boy Scouts, and church activities. Thad became an Eagle Scout and helped establish a new scout troop at Spring Ridge Methodist Church. He served as its first Junior Assistant Scout Master.
At Byram High School, Cochran earned varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball, and tennis. He gave a piano and voice recital his senior year and was class valedictorian. He was also a member of the 4-H Club and Daniel Memorial Baptist Church.
Cochran earned a B.A. degree at the University of Mississippi with a major in psychology and a minor in political science. He was elected president of his social fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, was a company commander in the Navy ROTC, student body vice president, and was selected for membership in Omicron Delta Kappa, a national honorary leadership fraternity.
When he graduated from Ole Miss, Cochran was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve and assigned to duty aboard the USS MACON, and served on the ship for 18 months becoming the ship’s legal officer after graduating as an honor student from the U.S. Navy School of Justice in Newport, Rhode Island. He also became qualified as Officer of the Deck, in port and underway.When his ship was decommissioned, Cochran was assigned to the staff of the Commandant of the Eighth Naval District in New Orleans, Louisiana, to complete his two-year tour of active duty in the Navy.
Cochran then enrolled in the School of Law at the University of Mississippi, where he won the Frederick Hamel Memorial Award for having the highest scholastic average in the first year class. He was selected for membership in the honorary legal fraternity Phi Delta Phi, served on the editorial board of the Mississippi Law Journal, argued before the Mississippi Supreme Court as a moot court finalist, and was elected chairman of the Honor Council.
Before graduating from law school, Cochran was awarded a Rotary Foundation Graduate Fellowship and studied jurisprudence and international law for a year at Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland. During this year abroad, he spoke to numerous Rotary Clubs and other groups in Ireland on the subject of the civil rights struggle in Mississippi and the United States. He also won the Hillary Term Moot Court competition sponsored by the Dublin Law Society.
In his final year of law school at Ole Miss, Cochran served as Article Editor of the Mississippi Law Journal and was selected for membership in Phi Kappa Phi, a national honorary scholastic fraternity. Several years later when he delivered the graduation address at the law school, Dean Parham Williams observed that Thad Cochran’s law school grade point average was the third highest of all students who had graduated from the Ole Miss law school during the decade.
During the summer in the law school years, Cochran returned to active duty in the Navy and taught military law and naval orientation at the Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
Legal Career & Civic Activities
After graduating from law school, Cochran joined the firm of Watkins & Eager in Jackson, where he was made a partner in the firm in only two and a half years.
Cochran served as president of the Jackson Men’s Y Club, as a member of the board of the Jackson Rotary Club, and a member of the Board of Mississippi Opera, Inc. He organized the first Mississippi chapter of the American Field Service and served as charter president to sponsor foreign exchange programs for high school students.
He was chairman of the Legal Services program of the Jackson Junior Bar, chairman of the Mississippi Law Institute, a continuing legal education program for Mississippi lawyers, and president of the Young Lawyers Division of the Mississippi Bar Association. Cochran was named by the Jaycees as Jackson’s Young Man of the Year and as one of the Three Outstanding Young Men of the Year in Mississippi.
With politics and government as subjects of much interest in the Cochran family, Thad was involved in campaigns for state and local candidates throughout his life, at one point becoming Hinds County Chairman for a State Treasurer race and an advisor on a gubernatorial campaign, as well as a state director for a presidential campaign.
In 1972, Cochran was elected United States Congressman for Mississippi’s Fourth District. He was appointed to the House Public Works and Transportation Committee, which had jurisdiction over economic development, transportation, and flood control. He also served on a Republican task force to study the energy crisis, and was appointed later to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct and the Select Committee on Ethics.
After winning re-election to the House in 1974, Cochran was elected by his colleagues to represent the Southern states on the House Republican Policy Committee. He was re-elected to the House of Representatives again in 1976. In both of his races for re-election, he received over 70 percent of the votes.
In 1978, Cochran was elected to the United States Senate, becoming the first Republican in more than 100 years to win a statewide election in Mississippi. He has since been re-elected five times and is currently serving his sixth term in office.
As a member of the Senate, Cochran has served as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference; chairman of the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee; and chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
In the current 113th Congress, Cochran has been selected to serve as Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee. He has served on this panel since being sworn in as a Senator in 1979, and served as chairman from 2003 to 2005.
Senator Cochran is a senior member on the Senate Committee on Appropriations, and is Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Cochran also serves on the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.
During previous Congresses, Cochran served on the Senate Ethics Committee, the Judiciary Committee, the Labor and Human Resources Committee, and the Committee on Indian Affairs. He has also served on the Joint Committee on the Library, which oversees the activities of the Library of Congress.
Cochran has a wide-ranging legislative record that reflects the needs of Mississippi and the nation. A conservative philosophy has guided the Senator’s policy decisions. He has supported measures to reduce spending, control debt and create an environment that fosters job creation and economic growth in Mississippi and the nation. He has also been a proponent of measures to maintain a strong national defense.
For Mississippi, Cochran has maintained a focus throughout his career on promoting economic development and educational opportunity. His leadership and assistance has contributed to the funding of various university-based research endeavors. The Senator supports Historically Black Colleges and Universities and continues to fight to maintain National Institutes of Health research opportunities for colleges and universities in rural states like Mississippi.
As a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Cochran has worked to ensure that the U.S. Armed Forces remain the best trained and equipped in the world, including support for the Navy’s shipbuilding programs and the military bases and installations in Mississippi.
Cochran has effectively used his seniority in the Senate and on the Senate Appropriations Committee to help Mississippi and the nation in the wake of disasters. After Hurricane Katrina—the worst natural disaster in U.S. history—devastated Mississippi and the Gulf Coast in 2005, Cochran worked in tandem with Governor Haley Barbour and other leaders to spearhead the effort to provide over $87 billion in supplemental federal assistance to the states affected by the storm. Since then, Cochran has used lessons from Hurricane Katrina to coauthor legislation enacted in early 2013 to reform and improve federal disaster recovery activities.
More recently, the Senator helped develop the “RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act” to help Gulf Coast states implement ecological and economic recovery activities following the tragic 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.
During the 112th Congress, Cochran was at the heart of the debate over the reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). His work on the program’s treatment of levees and other flood control infrastructure dramatically influenced how the NFIP assesses healthy flood control infrastructure.
Cochran, a long-time member of the Congressional Sportmen’s Caucus, authored the Mississippi Wilderness Act, which was the first federal legislation ever passed for the perpetual protection of lands in the state of Mississippi. The Senator also helped establish national wildlife refuges as a member of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, and he authored the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program.
Cochran is a member of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution and the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees. He has also worked to support the arts, arts education, and historic preservation both in Mississippi and nationally.
Cochran has been awarded honorary degrees from Kentucky Wesleyan College, Mississippi College, Blue Mountain College, the University of Richmond, and Tougaloo College. In 2011, he received the Mississippi Medal of Service.
Thad is married to Rose Clayton, and they have two children and three grandchildren. He is a member of Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson.