Former Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) passed away on Thursday at the age of 81.

Cochran stepped down from his U.S. Senate seat in April 2018, citing to health issues. Cochran “passed away peacefully early Thursday morning in Oxford,” the office of Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), said in a statement.

He won reelection in 2014, despite struggling during a Republican primary challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who was backed by tea party groups and had significant financial support from libertarian-leaning national groups that criticized Cochran as a big spender.

Cochran was elected to the U.S. House in 1972. When he won a Senate seat in 1978, he became the first Republican since Reconstruction to win statewide office in Mississippi. He led the Appropriations Committee in 2005-06, channeling money to Mississippi and other Gulf Coast states for Hurricane Katrina recovery after the 2005 storm, and regained the committee chairmanship in January 2015, when the GOP again took control of the Senate.

Cochran was born in the small town of Pontotoc, in the hill country of north Mississippi, and grew up in a suburb of Jackson. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from the University of Mississippi. Cochran spent three years in the Navy and studied international law for a year at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, before moving to Jackson, where he was in a private law practice for seven years before being elected to the House.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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