January 14, 2013 9:52:30 AM
TUPELO -- State Rep. David Gibbs, recalled by colleagues as a common-sense lawmaker who preferred to keep a low profile and make things happen behind the scenes, died Sunday. He was 76.
Gibbs, who had cancer, died about 5 a.m. Sunday, said Rep. Kenny Wayne Jones, D-Canton, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. He had been hospitalized at Northeast Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo. Hospital spokeswoman Deborah Pugh confirmed his death.
Citing his illness, Gibbs, D-West Point, had submitted his resignation letter Tuesday, but then sent word a day later that he wanted to rescind it. The letter was never filed with the Secretary of State's office.
Representative Gary Chism, R-Columbus, said he was surprised to hear of his colleague's sudden death.
"It was really a shock," Chism said. "I didn't know his condition had deteriorated as bad as it had because there was a possibility of him coming back during the session."
Chism said that while Gibbs wasn't the most outspoken legislator, his views were respected by his colleagues.
"He was a quiet legislator, but he always stood up for Clay County," Chism said. "He didn't speak at the podium often but when he did speak, folks listened."
Columbus Ward 5 councilman Kabir Karriem served on the state Democratic Party executive board with Gibbs and said the legislator's passing leaves a void in the House of Representatives.
"There is going to be truly a void missing from the Golden Triangle delegation with representative Gibbs passing," Karriem said. "He was a great person, an awesome legislator and a good friend. He's going to be truly missed. There are some huge shoes that have to be filled coming out of Clay County."
Gibbs had a keen strategic eye, said Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, the House Democratic leader.
"We don't have very many folks in government who do that," Moak said. "They like to be the pretty butterfly fluttering out front, whereas David was the guy who saw it all and put it together and in the end told you where the field of flowers were."
Gibbs's death, along with the death of state Sen. Benny Turner, in November, is a big blow the West Point area. Together, the two served the residents of the area for 35 years. A special election is scheduled for Tuesday to fill Turner's seat.
Gibbs was first elected in 1992 to the seat vacated by Scott Ross, who is now mayor of West Point.
"He was always committed to the process of looking out for folks who were less fortunate and didn't have a voice," Jones said.
Republican House Speaker Phillip Gunn also praised Gibbs' work.
He represented District 36, which includes parts of Clay, Lowndes and Monroe counties. Before serving in the Legislature, he was a member of the Clay County Board of Supervisors.
Gov. Phil Bryant has 30 days to set a special election, which would take place at least 40 days later. If a runoff was necessary, that could leave the seat empty for this year's three-month legislative session.
Jones and Moak said Gibbs' main interest was in legislation that would help his district.
But no matter what the issue, Moak said, Gibbs was always worth consulting. "David was a pretty good political engineer of how you get to a certain goal line. He'd say, 'Moak, I think you need to do this, this and this, and you need to talk to these folks."'
He also was a senior member of the state Democratic executive committee, said Rickey Cole, chairman of the state Democratic Party.
"His was consistently a voice of quiet, strong and reliable common sense. He believed that only by working together could we make life better for everyone," Cole wrote in a statement. "The Mississippi Legislature and the Democratic Party are much the poorer in the absence of our good and wise friend David Gibbs."
Associated Press writers Emily Wagster Pettus and Jeff Amy contributed to this report.