Author: Billy Davis, The Panolian
State Sen. Steve Hale said he was reminded of the fragility of life Monday morning when he learned of the sudden passing of Mississippi House of Representatives colleague Dr. Joe Gardner.
Gardner died of a heart attack at his home in the Curtis community. He was 68.
Cooley’s Mortuary is in charge of arrangements, which were incomplete at press time Monday.
Only hours before his passing, Gardner and Hale took turns speaking at a legislative breakfast in Senatobia.
“This is heartbreaking news,” Hale said of Gardner’s death. “How fragile life is and how quickly it can change.”
Gardner, known for his soft-spoken manner, represented District 11, which includes portions of Panola and Tate counties.
He was also pastor of Greater Concord M.B. Church west of Batesville, and held a variety of business interests and titles during his lifetime.
South Panola Schools trustee Lygunnah Bean recalled that Gardner was elected to the school board after the late Leonard Morris was elected to the Mississippi House. Morris passed away suddenly in 2007, and Gardner replaced him as the District 11 representative in a special election.
“Joe was an entrepreneur,” Bean said, recalling that Gardner operated a truck-driving school and farmed on his family land in the Curtis community.
He also taught students in the North Panola school system.
Norma Conrad-Brown, who now lives in Magee, said Gardner taught her science in junior high.
“He was smart. You could tell he was knowledgeable about what he was teaching,” said Brown, a 1981 graduate.
Gardner was also a U.S. Army veteran and retired from the Mississippi Army National Guard. He was a commander and charter member of VFW Post 12121.
Gardner taught Sunday School for many years before becoming an ordained minister in his later years, Bean said.
House Speaker Philip Gunn called Gardner “a fine man who was well-liked by everyone here” after learning of his passing.
“He was one of the kindest members,” Gunn said in a statement.
The Mississippi legislature is currently in session, and legislators were set to convene at 4 p.m. Monday.
Gardner was transported by ambulance from his home at 11084 Curtis Road to Tri-Lakes Medical Center, said Sheriff Dennis Darby.
Darby said a dispatcher received a 911 call from the home at 9:47 Monday morning.
Panola coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge said paramedics were unable to revive Gardner, and he was pronounced dead at 10:41. She said the cause of death was a heart attack, citing his high blood pressure and the symptoms he showed at his death.
Tate County Democrat publisher Shirley Trimm attended the legislative event in Senatobia Monday morning, just prior to Gardner’s death.
“He was fine,” Trimm said of Gardner. “He talked to us about charter schools and updated us about his part in state government.”
Trimm said that Senatobia High School seniors in a government class were also among those who attended.
“He was a true gentleman,” said Hale. “He will truly be missed.”