| By John Howell Sr.
The February meeting of the Panola County Geneological and Historical Society (Pan-Gens) morphed into a mini class reunion for speaker Selwyn Laughter as Joanne Autrey Druetto and Jerry Estridge of Batesville, and Mike Carson of Greenwood joined him and Pan Gens’ members and guests for the organization’s monthly meeting last week.
Druetto, Estridge and Carson were Laughter’s classmates in South Panola’s Class of 1968.
Laughter left Batesville 38 years ago after receiving an appointment to the Naval Academy at Annapolis. His presentation Thursday night, February 23, included slides from his Navy career was well from his Batesville childhood.
He told the Pan-Gens group that he grew up at the foot of Shuford’s Hill. His slides included views of the Batesville Square during the 1960s when his father, the late Leonard Laughter, served as Batesville Postmaster. Laughter recalled that the square was "hustling and bustling with rounded and streamlined cars" of that era.
Laughter told about the fondness for childhood friends, the memories of his grandparents and his father. He spoke of the Chapeltown farm of his maternal grandfather, the late Selwyn Shuford, where he spent many days when he was growing up. He said he was proud that the farm yet remains in the family.
The Pan-Gens speaker majored in aerospace engineering at Naval Academy and entered flight school following graduation. He became a pilot of jet fighters launched from and landed on aircraft carriers. Laughter’s presentation included many dramatic in-flight photos of the aircraft as they reached supersonic speeds.
Laughter recalled a Naval career that included flying the F-14 Tomcat fighter aircraft, serving as a test pilot and commanding a squadron at the "Top Gun" Navy flying school when the movie starring Tom Cruise was filmed. He was later commanding officer of the Point Mugu Naval Air Station northwest of Los Angeles, Calif.
Following retirement from military service, Laughter joined United Airlines where he flies aircraft as a test pilot. "At least, I’ll find out tomorrow if I still have a job," Laughter laughed, referring to an expected February 24 ruling on United Airlines’ bankruptcy status.
Laughter and his wife, Jan, live in Zionsville, Indiana, near Indianapolis. Their son Jesse is a college junior; their daughter Eve is a high school junior.
His mother, Mrs. Dot Laughter, attended the meeting.
Editor’s Note: Mrs. Annie-Glenn Howell contributed to this story.