Monday, December 10, 2012

Greek Lent Rice (1886-1950)

Portrait from the 1945-49 Mississippi State Register.

   Possessing a full name that could be interpreted as a restaurant side dish, native Mississippian Greek Lent Rice devoted over thirty years of his life to public service in the Hospitality State. Despite being saddled with a name that most would consider truly unusual, Rice served two terms in the Mississippi legislature during the mid-1920s and was elected as Attorney General of his state in 1931, serving in this post for nearly two decades!
  The son of Lent Irwin (1859-1915) and Annie Passgrove Rice (1860-1894), Greek Lent Rice was born in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi on May 18, 1886. Rice received his education in schools local to Tallahatchie County and later graduated from the Mississippi College in the city of Clinton in 1908. Rice continued his higher education at the Cumberland College in Tennessee, earning his law degree here in 1911. 
   After being admitted to practice law, Rice opened a law office in Charleston, Mississippi and operated here for several years. The 1951-1960 edition of Who Was Who In America notes that Rice became an attorney in the Washington office of the alien property custodian, serving in this post from 1918-1919.
   Rice made his first move into political circles in 1919, running for a seat in the Mississippi State House of Representatives. He was successful in his attempt, taking his seat in 1920. Rice served in the legislature until 1921 and in that year resigned to accept the position of circuit court judge for Mississippi's 17th district. With an office located in Charleston, Rice served on the bench for a decade, leaving office in 1931 to run for Mississippi State Attorney General. An election notice featuring Rice appeared in the August 3, 1931 edition of the Hattiesburg American and is shown below. This notice touts Rice's previous judicial and legislative experience and also makes light of his being "endorsed and supported by every lawyer in the five counties of his district."

   On election day 1931 Rice succeeding in winning the Attorney Generalship, thus beginning an 18-year tenure as Mississippi's highest ranking law enforcement figure. While his service as attorney general extended nearly two decades, Rice also served in other political capacities, being a delegate to the 1936 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia from Mississippi. Four years later Rice again served as a member of the Mississippi delegation to the DNC, journeying to Chicago to renominate President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the party's standard-bearer. 
   Rice was re-elected to his final term as Attorney General in November 1949 and died in office a few months later on February 21, 1950, at the home of his sister. He was 63 years old at the time of his death and newspapers of the time note that Rice had been in a deteriorating state of health for some time prior to his passing. These papers also mention that Rice "held the rare distinction of never being defeated in a campaign for public office" during his lifetime.
   The death of Greek L. Rice was front page news in many Mississippi newspapers, and the outpouring of sympathy extended from then Mississippi Governor Fielding Lewis Wright as well as Mississippi House Speaker Walter Sillers. The entire Mississippi Legislature even held a recess to attend Rice's funeral services, which speaks volumes about his stature in Mississippi political circles. Governor Wright later appointed Mississippi Supreme Court justice James Plemon Coleman (1914-1991) to succeed the deceased Rice, and Coleman went on to serve six years in the post.
  A lifelong bachelor, Rice was survived by five siblings and was interred at the Charleston Cemetery in Charleston, Mississippi. The portrait of him shown at the top of his article here was located in his Hattiesburg American obituary (posted below) which was published a few days after his death.

1 comment:

  1. awesome, that is my great uncle