MSU mourns death of U.S. Rep. Nunnelee

U.S. Rep. Patrick “Alan” Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, who recently was re-elected to his third term as Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District representative, died Feb. 6 at the age of 56 from inoperable brain cancer and complications from a subsequent stroke.

“Congressman Nunnelee was a man of strength and tenacity whose legacy will be his dedicated service to the people of Mississippi and the nation. I greatly admired the courage and selflessness with which he waged his long and valiant battle against the terrible illness that ultimately claimed his life,” said MSU President Mark E. Keenum.

“Alan built a distinguished career in the legislative branches of both state and federal government. He loved and served MSU as a student, as an alumnus and later as a legislator. Our prayers and heartfelt sympathies remain with his wonderful wife, Tori, his children and grandchildren, and the rest of the Nunnelee family. My wife Rhonda joins with me and the rest of the MSU family in mourning the untimely death of this dedicated public servant and fellow Bulldog,” Keenum said.

Representing Mississippi’s northern-tier congressional district since 2011, Nunnelee was known for his conservative, pro-life and pro-family values. He officially was sworn into the 114th Congress Jan. 12, and his committee memberships included the House Appropriations Committee as well as the Agriculture, Energy and Water, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs subcommittees.

A Mississippi State University alumnus, Nunnelee enjoyed visiting campus and frequently accepted invitations to speak with students.

“College students are willing to challenge the status quo and ask why,” he said in a 2011 Mississippi State Alumnus magazine article. “I love being around college students because of that.”

Nunnelee said he supported practical solutions and research and development to help solve challenges for Mississippi and America.
Nunnelee began his political career as an MSU sophomore when he decided to run as a Suttle Hall representative in the Student Association. A man who faced challenges, including losing his sight during his junior year of college, Nunnelee said overcoming obstacles helped strengthen him. “I made it through a very difficult time in my life because of the people here,” he added.

Corneal transplant surgery helped Nunnelee to regain limited vision after finishing school at MSU. He explained his limited sight gave him strength in other areas.

“When I lost my sight, I found that God compensates by strengthening something else,” he said.

Nunnelee served the past two years as a guest speaker during Mississippi’s American Legion Boys State program, the state’s premier program for teaching young men how government works, developing leadership skills and nurturing an appreciation for the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Before joining the 112th Congress, the Tupelo native represented Lee and Pontotoc counties in the Mississippi State Senate, where he rose to the chairmanship of the state Senate Appropriations Committee after serving as chairman of the Senate Public Health Committee. He previously was a vice president of Allied Funeral Associates life insurance company and a member of Tupelo’s Community Development Foundation board of directors.

Nunnelee is survived by wife Tori and their three grown children Reed, a Mississippi College history and juris doctor graduate and attorney for the Jackson law firm Brunini, Grantham, Grower and Hewes PLLC; Emily Nunnelee Thompson, a 2010 MSU marketing graduate who previously served as an assistant to the university’s vice president for research and the director of sponsored programs administration; and Nathan, a 2012 MSU biochemistry/pre-MBA graduate.

By Sasha Steinberg, Photography by Russ Houston