Tell us about your background.
You name it, I’ve probably done it. As a youngster in the 1960s I spent every fall selling 6 1/2 – ounce glass bottles of Coca Cola out of a wooden crate at Ole Miss football games. That was good money for a young kid, and I thought I was rich. While in college, I worked on the local fire department, which is an exciting and rewarding job, especially at age 18. Immediately after college, I spent a year teaching American history in Virginia, two years as a newspaper reporter and editor, and four years working with Governor William Winter to help secure kindergartens, reading aides, and compulsory school attendance for Mississippi. Subsequently, I served as executive director of CREATE in Tupelo. I then spent almost 14 years with the U.S. Justice Department as a U.S. Marshal, and in the wake of 9-11 handling anti-terrorism, law enforcement, and training assignments with the Justice Department. Ten years ago the judges of the U.S. Courts in the Northern District of Mississippi hired me to oversee the Court’s operations as clerk of the federal court. My brother contends all of this is evidence that I can’t hold a job.
What is your current position?
With the expertise and professionalism of an incredible staff, I work for the judges of the U.S. District Court. We oversee federal courthouses in Oxford, Aberdeen, and Greenville, where complex criminal and civil matters are adjudicated.
What do you love about Oxford? What’s not to love about a small, friendly, literary town with an outstanding university that offers an abundance of concerts, lectures, conferences, seminars, and sporting events. My bride’s parents moved to Oxford five years ago from Texas. Their only regret is that they didn’t move here 25 years ago.
What can we expect to find in your soon-to-be released book? My book is a rich collection of almost 2,000 compelling, insightful, heartfelt, poignant, amusing, and sometimes absurd quotations from great Mississippi writers, musicians, athletes, and everyday Mississippians. There are quotations from over 250 Mississippians segmented into 80 different themes including attitude, civil rights, law, human nature, Blues, justice, politics, humility, character, religion, sacrifice, the Civil War, life, endurance, love, lying, truth, and education. The quotations encompass the wide breadth of talented Mississippians including Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Medgar Evers, Elvis Presley, Morgan Freeman, John Grisham, Fannie Lou Hamer, Archie Manning, Tammy Wynette, Leontyne Price, Soggy Sweat, Jack Reed, Muddy Waters, and George McLean. The collection includes utterances by non-Mississippians about Mississippi, including comments by Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Johnny Carson, Jon Stewart, and numerous others. The quotations run the gamut from Shelby Foote’s priceless, “The real answers, the answers that will bring you not peace but understanding, can only be found in art,” to a high school football coach’s amusing instruction to his players during a scrimmage: “You boys pair off. Pair off in threes.”
What is your favorite quotation?
I can’t narrow it down to just one. I’d be hard-pressed to narrow it down to a hundred and one. Please indulge me at least three wonderful lines that are probably not well known. Richard Ford wrote, “Deep down we’re all reaching out for a decent rewarding contact
every chance we get.” William Faulkner observed, “Only the heart, the body, the nerves are capable of feeling fire, anguish, passion, exultation, happiness, hope.” You have to love Eudora Welty’s fine, acid humor in her line, “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich.” And how about this gem from country musician Jimmie Rodgers, “Why should I be lonesome, when nobody is lonesome for me?” Obviously my math skills are minimal, as that is four quotes. And finally, there’s Barry Hannah’s stunning description of Geronimo. But to savor this quote, you will have to buy my book when it comes out in October and turn to the section on violence. Or you can read Hannah’s novel “Geronimo Rex.”
We heard that you climbed the tallest peak in South America. What was that like?
Mainly it was breathtaking – both because there is precious little oxygen at an altitude of over 22,000 feet and because the view from the summit is stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful. The climb up Aconcagua is treacherous and arduous. You must contend with minimal oxygen, gale force winds, bitter cold, crevasses, heavy loads of equipment, and steep pitches. Aconcagua has the distinction of being one of the seven summits and is the highest peak in both the western hemisphere and the southern hemisphere. The best thing about expeditions like that are the guys you go with. I’ve been lucky through the years to mountain climb with outstanding guys like Jak Smith, Reed Hillen, Scott Reed, Wayne Slocum, Steve Wallace, and others from around Tupelo. The best rule for mountain
climbing is to have strong legs, a weak mind, a good sense of humor, and the ability to endure pain. I’m the only one in my crew that qualifies on the weak mind front.
Where are your favorite places to adventure/visit in Mississippi?
First and foremost is Caulk Island on the Mississippi River, which Bob Dunlap is restoring to a virgin forest. The bear, deer, turkey, hogs, eagles and other wildlife there are extraordinary. Mr. Dunlap has planted over a million hardwoods on the island, turning that 12,000-acre expanse into a tree and wildlife sanctuary. If I could sum up his goal, it would be to return Caulk Island to the pristine character it had when Hernando DeSoto first encountered the Mississippi River almost 500 years ago. Another favorite is the Natchez Trace. In my 20s I hiked the entire 450-mile Trace from Nashville to Natchez. Thankfully, the cutthroat Harp brothers are long gone. Some of my other favorite Mississippi semi-adventures are riding mountain bikes through the Vicksburg National Military Park, exploring the Clarke Creek Natural Area, and biking the Tanglefoot Trail from New Albany through Pontotoc down to Houston, especially in the fall when the leaves are turning.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I have climbed mountains all over this country and other parts of the world. I have run seven marathons and competed in about 40 triathlons, including the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon, one of the most grueling races in the world. That is my peculiar idea of fun. I used the Ironman as a fundraiser collecting $42,000 to help construct the Mississippi Children’s Cancer Clinic in Jackson. In my spare time I work on my 230 acres of forest and pastures, driving a tractor, running a chain saw, going for an occasional swim in my lake, and corralling two energetic, joyful kids. I also love to read, especially good histories, novels, biographies, and memoirs. When my kids were younger, my absolute favorite activity was to read to them and tell stories. The stories they loved most were those from my childhood when I stumbled or got in trouble. Not surprisingly, I had an almost inexhaustible supply of those tales.
Photo by Lauren Wood