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Community celebrates Sam Cockrell's spirit

By Staff
PAYING TRIBUTE Senior Master Sgt. Jerome Jackson, left, stands alongside the casket of Sam Cockrell as friends and family members file by to pay their last respects Monday at Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church. Cockrell's wife, Beverly, leans her head on the shoulder of another mourner. Cockrell was the last of five victims to be buried after the Lockheed Martin shooting on July 8. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
July 15, 2003
The last thing Beverly Cockrell wanted to do was talk to a news reporter after she followed her husband's flag-draped casket out of Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist church on Monday.
Standing in the hot sun, she held onto funeral home staffers for support. Asked what people can learn from Sam Cockrell's life and death, his widow shut her eyes tight and took a deep breath before answering.
Beverly disappeared into a red limousine with tinted windows parked behind a black hearse. It was time to go to the cemetery.
Members of the church laymen's ministry and Sam Cockrell's U.S. Air Force Reserve unit served as pallbearers.
Cockrell was the last of five Lockheed Martin shooting victims buried after being killed July 8 when co-worker Doug Williams went on a violent rampage that also left nine others injured. Williams then shot himself.
Besides Cockrell, the four other employees killed were Mickey Fitzgerald, Lynette McCall, Charlie Miller and Thomas Willis.
God's servant
Cockrell's family, friends, co-workers and fellow church members remembered him during his funeral as a determined, committed, servant of God.
Several hundred people filled the church and paid their last respects to Cockrell before the service began.
His open casket was a reminder of his deep religious conviction. On the lining of the light blue lid of the coffin was a small, simple scene of three crosses on a hill.
Monday was the 23rd anniversary of Cockrell's hiring at Lockheed Martin. He was born in Meridian on Sept. 9, 1956, to Annie Franklin Cockrell and the late Samuel Edward Cockrell Sr.
Sam Cockrell was called "PeeWee" as a little boy when he attended Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church. At that time, the church was on the corner of Ninth Street and 47th Avenue.
Mae Carol Hart, 69, remembered Cockrell as a young boy who pushed her mother, Beatrice Hart, to church in her wheelchair every Sunday.
The Harts lived around the corner from the church. Mae Carol's mother passed away in 1999 at the age of 100.
Planted man
Cockrell served his church as a Sunday school teacher, Sunday school superintendent, laymen president, vacation Bible school teacher and deacon. He was active in the Baptist Convention on the local, state and national levels.
For several years he served the prison ministry of the Lauderdale County jail. Dennis Marks, chaplain of the county's prison ministry, said inmates will miss Cockrell.
Marks was one of several people who paid tribute to Cockrell at his funeral, which was described by one speaker as a celebration of Cockrell's spirit rather than a memorial.
The Rev. Zachary S. Operton, pastor of the church, delivered the eulogy. He said he borrowed Cockrell's Bible once and found that Psalms 1:1-3 were highlighted. Operton said those verses described Cockrell.
On Monday everyone who loved Sam Cockrell came together to celebrate him as a "planted man," as Operton called him, and reaffirmed that he was bigger than life and death.