Mayor Stafford Helped Jump Start Pontotoc
The death of Howard Stafford caught me by surprise. After all, had not Barbara and I talked to him roughly two months ago as we were leaving Sunshine Health Care in Pontotoc? Stopping to chat came natural to Howard Stafford. He was never one to talk ones ear off, but he did show enough concern and interest to make one feel appreciated.
It had been some time since I had seen our former Mayor, but he looked well, clad in what one might describe as a western look, though in his case his rugged features and wide brimmed hat reminded me more of an Indiana Jones figure.
"I came to check on my sister and a brother-in-law," he responded when we asked the nature of his visit.
Ours was not a lengthy conversation and was more of an exchange of greetings that happened to consist of expressions of concern for our respective families.
Howard Stafford was a member of Americas Greatest Generation which consists, in part, of individuals who survived the hardships of the Great Depression only to be confronted with stopping fascism in Europe and imperialism in the Far East. Howard served his country in the Army, spending four years in the South Pacific. When he returned to the States, Howard maintained a Standard Oil dealership for several years before turning his attention to politics.
Howard Stafford was elected Mayor of Pontotoc in 1965 and served as Mayor for 28 consecutive years. Pontotoc and Pontotoc County owe its years of "industrial revolution," largely to the efforts of Howard Stafford.
Howards management style distinguished him from all who had previously held the mayors office, and his uniqueness has not been duplicated since. Mayor Stafford was not one to take no for an answer. Persons who knew him far better than I have called his methods unorthodox.
At his funeral, on January 26, 2008, Judge Charles Thomas noted Howards heroes were Geronimo and Gen. Douglas MacArthur and drew upon similarities of each. Like Geronimo, Mayor Stafford was fearless and like Gen. MacArthur, defeat was not something he could or would accept.
Judge Thomas further stated, "Victory and Success was his goal, and he intended to carry it out and to fulfill that in whatever way possible."
Later, alluding to Mayor Staffords bulldoze and build philosophy, Judge Thomas stated, "I think passion and success was his number one goal, and I think tearing things up was his second."
Many a local citizen has been shocked by the mayors bluntness and/or his colorful language. After all, it was Mayor Stafford who had a falling-out with the Environmental Protection Agency over the use of DDT to kill fire ants.
As best I can recall, in a televised interview, the mayor stated, "Id about as soon die of cancer as have piss-ants crawling all over me," and his statement reflected the sentiments of many at the time DDT was banned.
Strong-willed, yes, but Howard Stafford was a strong leader and was well respected among the ranks of Mississippi Mayors. If Howard thought his making a trip to Washington to lobby for grant monies to help grow Pontotoc was in order, he would do so, and often his efforts were successful.
When the City of Pontotoc needed additional help in the application for and administration of Federal funds, Howard Stafford asked for recommendations from Richard Ball. Richard had been helping with the Urban Renewal Project but had taken a position with the Pontotoc Housing Authority. Barbara was working part-time as a bookkeeper for First Baptist Church and Richard contacted her. She told Richard she wasnt interested in the job, but Richard turned in her name, and the next day, Barbara received a phone call from the mayor.
"Mrs. Carter, this is Stafford," Barbara recalls, "I hear youre looking for a job."
"No, Im not," she replied, noting the long silence that followed before continuing, "But I understand youre looking for some help."
"I want to talk to you; be in my office at eight-thirty tomorrow morning," he responded and hung up the phone.
For the next year or so, Barbara worked for the mayor, before taking a similar position with Three Rivers Planning and Development District. And, its fair to say that Howard Stafford launched her career that to this day includes applications for grants in her work with Habitat for Humanity.
By all accounts, Howard Stafford did whatever he needed to do at the time to accomplish the task before him. Charles Thomas recalled a recent golf outing in which he observed Howard teeing up a golf ball in the fairway. Charles pointed out to non-golfers in the audience that tees are permitted only when the golfer is hitting from the area called the tee, and tees are certainly not used in the fairway.
When Charles confronted Howard about the rule violation, the mayor remarked, "Im going to beat you any way I can."
Howard Stafford seemed as adept at operating a piece of heavy equipment as he was in pushing Pontotoc into the twenty-first century. He certainly didnt hesitate to crawl onto the seat of a bulldozer.
Faith was important to Howard Stafford, but he once observed, in a moment of introspection, that he caused some folks to come to church and he drove away some.
Brother Doug Jones, pastor of Victory Baptist Church, delivered one of three eulogies at Howards funeral. Brother Doug and the mayor had developed a strong friendship through the years. Brother Doug commented on his once needing surgery and how Howard had left a short, to-the-point message on his answering machine.
"Preacher, this is Stafford," so stated the message, "Im praying for you."
Judge Jimmy Roberts also spoke at the funeral and he shared a similar experience when he was facing a serious operation just a year or so ago. Jimmy noted his cell phone rang just a few days before the day of the operation, one that required cutting him half in two, the removal of one rib, and considerable scraping around on a kidney.
"This is Stafford. I hear youre gonna have surgery."
"Pretty serious isnt it?
"Is it Cancer?"
"Well, I hope you make it, but if you dont I aint gonna worry; youve had a heck of a lot more than you deserve anyway."
In his eulogy, Brother Doug Jones also reminded us that Howard was quick to give others credit whenever he was cited for his accomplishments as Mayor of Pontotoc.
Brother Doug remembered a typical response whenever he mentioned how much Howard had done for Pontotoc, "He would invariably say, I had a whole lot of help."
"He said, I leaned heavily on Farrell Berryhill, and on others."
One of the lightest moments in the more than an hour and a half funeral service came as Charles Thomas shared a happening in 1993, when Howard Stafford was hospitalized with an aneurysm.
Charles recalled visiting Howard in the Intensive Care Unit along with others, including Brother Doug Jones.
Charles stated, "I have never seen so many tubes and wires and instruments and oxygen masks, you name it, they had it hooked up to Howard. Brother Doug put his hand on Howards shoulder and said, Howard Im here to pray for you."
"Very frankly, I didnt know that he was conscious. The next thing I knew that head turned, and he pulled that mask down, and he said, What the hell you waitin on?"
Truly, it was the sort of funeral for which two funerals were needed. One funeral to deal with the spiritual aspect of the departed and one funeral in which the earthier aspects of Howards life and experiences might be more readily shared.
Judge Jimmy Roberts concluded the trilogy of eulogies in grand fashion, sharing many examples he had catalogued regarding the larger than life individual we knew as "The Mayor." The following are but a few of the examples:
"Dr. Charles Head was a PHD etymologist with the state of Mississippi Extension Service. He and his family lived in the red brick house just south of my office building over there."
"He called me late one evening and said, Mr. Roberts, Id like to ask you a question. When I left home this morning there was not a street at the east end of my property, but I come home this afternoon and theres a paved asphalt street across the east end of my property. Dont you have to sign something to do that?"
"I said, You do everywhere except Pontotoc."
"Byrd Mauldin owned a rent house down below the railroad tracks. Howard thought it was occupied generally by undesirables, and he told Byrd several times, You need to tear that house down."
"Byrd failed to do it. Howard bulldozed the house."
"I said, What did Byrd think about that?"
"He said, He didnt seem to like it."
"He died as he would have wished and chosen, I think. He was up and going and operating something."
"His well-known philosophy was Its better to get forgiveness than it is permission. He loved politics, he hated some politicians. He viewed that as something that had to be done."
Jimmy Roberts noted that Howard Stafford treated everyone the same and for this reason it was hard to tell if he liked you. Perhaps, the best summation of Howards life can be found in the opening remarks by Charles Thomas, "Youre talking about an extraordinary man who led an extraordinary life."
Wind Is Good Carl Wayne's Observation
was away from Pontotoc on a windy night, the one Carl Wayne Hardeman of Collierville, TN writes about below. I was in Greenville that evening on the top floor of a four-story motel. The windows shook, and the wind howled as it roared into the east wall and spilled onto the roof. I checked weather.com on my computer and found winds speeds were averaging 33 mph with gusts to 44 mph. Now for your reading pleasure, heres CW:
"... as the wind blows out candles and kindles fires." ~ François de la Rochefoucauld
Last evening we sat in the den listening to the great wind as a cold front blew through. Power fluctuations dimmed the lights. We imagined her parents Ralph and Opal near Hurricane MS in their storm house. Two of the granddarlings called asking Mimi if we were having a tornado. She told them not to be afraid; it was just a wind.
Just a wind. But what a wind. Gusts to 41 MPH. Temperature dropped from an unseasonable 68 degrees to 36 degrees, and wind chill index in the teens. The front moved quickly over us at suppertime, and by the ten p.m. news had crossed the state.
The government weather report says average winds were 19.3 MPH with gusts to 41. It seemed stronger here. Mimi's puppy Belle would not venture out. The trash cart would not stay upright, so it was retrieved into the garage and taken back to the curb this morning.
We are thankful we had little damage other than a few shingles. Instead, the wind broke off some of the small limbs I could not reach that died in last years' Black Sunday frost. Mother Nature did my pruning.
I hurried to the garden this morning to see if the mulch or the spring bulb pots had blown away. They had not. The foot deep mulch and planting mix in the pots are heavy from the rain. The mulch of shredded leaves, Starbucks' coffee grounds, and granular nitrogen is building a rich humus bed for cabbages, onions, mustard, turnips, lettuce, and potatoes.
Wind can be good, not only doing my pruning, but good air circulation around plants helps prevent mildew and mold in our hot humid summers. Wind carries pollen and spores far afield spreading nature's biodiversity and helping start the next generation. But, it also blows away bare topsoil.
Wind powers windmills to generate clean electricity, but they destroy many migratory birds in places such as Southern California where wind funnels and its speed increases as it blows off the ocean through passes into the high desert.
Some people believe wind causes small vibrations in plants which stimulates roots to grow, and thus do not recommend staking young trees. There is a chapter on this in the book Secrets of the Soil.
Maybe these vibrations are why many of us feel our plants grow better when we walk through the garden and talk to them.
Carl Wayne, Master Gardener firstname.lastname@example.org
Bodock Beau Email Warnings
Ralph Jones shared the following noting, " some of the trash on the Internet has been forwarded, then re-forwarded and then forwarded again and is just plain "horse pucky," as Col. Potter on M*A*S*H would say.
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