By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON — State Rep. Steve Holland has been saying for years that someone should write about his family’s political dynasty in northeast Mississippi.
It’s a great story, he promises. One that people would love to read.
Holland, D-Plantersville, has served in the state House since 1984. His wife, Gloria Holland, is mayor of Plantersville, a small suburb of Tupelo. One of his brothers, Billy Joe Holland, is a Lee County supervisor. And their mama, their sainted 80-year-old mama, Sadie Holland, is a Lee County Justice Court judge.
The Holland family has gotten plenty international attention the past couple of weeks — just not for reasons that most folks could’ve imagined.
Federal agents say Sadie Holland was one of three people who were sent letters in early April that tested positive for the poison ricin. The other letters were addressed to President Barack Obama and Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, but those two letters never reached their intended targets because they were stopped in mail processing facilities.
Judge Holland opened her ricin letter, and Steve Holland told The Associated Press that like just about any country lady would do, she gave it a “smell test” when she saw something odd. Steve Holland reports it burnt her nose a little. The judge later underwent medical tests and was found to be fine.
Nonetheless, the ricin letters saga took a series of turns so bizarre that a book editor would probably kick the story back as too incredible if it were submitted as a work of fiction. Federal authorities arrested an Elvis impersonator from north Mississippi then dropped the charges nearly a week later. The investigation continued with federal agents in haz-mat suits searching another man’s home and former business in Tupelo.
Sadie Holland raised six sons on a family farm. In the 1980s, she was the first female mayor of Nettleton, a small town south of Tupelo. Relatives say she was also among the first female bus drivers for the Lee County School District — a job that, in any school district anywhere, requires a strong personality and plenty of stamina.
Mississippi’s northern district public service commissioner, Brandon Presley, was mayor of Nettleton from 2001 to 2007, and said he has long known the Holland family, including the woman he calls Miss Sadie.
“She’s just about like everybody’s grandmother. She’s just a kind, gentle woman,” said Presley, a distant cousin of the late king of rock ‘n’ roll.
Steve Holland is among the most outspoken lawmakers on issues such as funding public education and providing mental health services and Medicaid coverage. He’s known for frequently waving a tiny American flag during debates and is a jokester who’s quotable on a wide range of subjects.
“I’ve been to five gubernatorial hangings, and I’m still here,” Steve Holland said April 3 just before a portrait of Republican former Gov. Haley Barbour was hung at the Capitol.
That’s not to say Steve Holland is always a happy-go-lucky guy. Even he acknowledges he can be a bit of a hot head at times. A few years ago, for example, he chewed out a 20-something Barbour advisor in front of a room full of people at the Capitol, using the king daddy of all obscenities in the process.
Things work out, though. Barbour and Holland frequently disagreed on policy issues — one of them being a former Republican National Committee chairman and the other being an unapologetic Yellow Dog Democrat — but Barbour managed to give Holland a friendly shout-out during State of the State addresses he made as governor.