Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Fordice studied engineering at Purdue University, becoming a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity and earning a BS and MS in 1956 and 1957, respectively. After graduation he served with the United States Army as an engineer officer in the 1st Infantry Division for two years. He remained in the Army Reserve until 1977, retiring with the rank of colonel.
Fordice settled in Vicksburg and began a career in heavy construction, eventually founding his own construction company and becoming a millionaire. He won the governorship of Mississippi in the 1991 election, first winning the Republican primary against state auditor Pete Johnson and in the general election against Democratic incumbent Ray Mabus. Fordice was re-elected in 1995 against Democratic Mississippi secretary of state Dick Molpus. His second inauguration was on January 16, 1996.
An outspoken conservative, Fordice advocated tax cuts, the abolishment of affirmative action, reductions in the welfare system, expanded capital punishment, tougher prison conditions and the building of more prisons.
Fordice also alarmed Jewish groups such as B'nai B'rith by referring to America as "a Christian Nation" during a Republican governors conference. South Carolina governor Carroll Campbell quickly offered a correction, adding "Judeo-" as a prefix to Christian, but Fordice snapped back he meant what he said. Fordice later apologized for any offense.
Fordice also refused to discuss any increase in public school pay raise across the state, even though Mississippi ranked 49th in the nation. When teachers discussed striking he ordered any teacher that went on strike to be immediately fired.
In August 1996, Fordice signed an executive order banning recognition of same-sex marriages in Mississippi. Lawmakers said then that they would back up the executive order with a law. In 2004, Mississippi voters passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman and further banning recognition of same-sex marriages from other states and countries.
Fordice said he would have quit his position of Governor while still in office, except that he didn't want to give the Democratic candidate, Lieutenant Governor Ronnie Musgrove, any spot-light time of running the state before the actual election. Musgrove won the election anyway and became Mississippi's next Governor.
Fordice's tenure was also roiled by an extramarital affair with his high school sweetheart Ann G. Creson, which led to his divorce from his wife of 44 years, Pat Fordice. The controversy included then-65-year-old Fordice's threat to "whip your ass" when reporter Bert Case went to Fordice's house to question him. After leaving office, Fordice married Ann, but they also divorced later.
After retiring, Fordice settled in Madison, Mississippi. He died of leukemia in Jackson at the age of 70 with his ex-wife Pat by his side. He is buried at Parkway Memorial Cemetery in Ridgeland, Mississippi.
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