Headlines – 1/16/2007

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Panolian: HEADLINES – January 16, 2007

  From the 01/16/07 issue of The Panolian   –   

Community mourns loss of friend to all
Services are 2:30 today for Rep. Morris
By Billy Davis

When Tractor Supply manager A.R. Robinson was undecided about moving from Florida to Batesville to manage a new store, a quiet-spoken Realtor named Leonard Morris convinced him to make the move to the Magnolia State.

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Last summer, Robinson and his wife, Yvonne, were preparing to travel back to Florida after scouting the Panola County area when they visited Morris in his Batesville office. A postal carrier who met the couple had suggested they visit with Morris.

"We were getting ready to leave and I said, ‘Let’s go find this guy,’ " Robinson recalled. "We discovered this quiet-spoken man in his office. He spent two hours talking to us."

People who knew Leonard Morris probably aren’t surprised to hear he spent two hours talking with husband-and-wife strangers, or that he spent that time convincing them to make a new home in Panola County.

Morris, 59, died Friday evening, January 12, at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

Morris was listed in critical condition since January 4 when he developed complications during surgery to remove a tumor from a kidney. His condition had improved and was upgraded to serious by
January 8.

Funeral services for Morris will be held today at 2:30 p.m. in the auditorium at Batesville Junior High School. Burial will be at Concord Cemetery.

Visitation for Morris was held yesterday at Concord Missionary Baptist Church, where he served as chairman of the deacon ministry. A memorial service was held there at 6:30.

Morris was born and raised in the Concord community, located along Curtis Road in west Panola County. He raised daughters Lenora and Lillian with his wife, Belinda, in the same community in which he was born.

At the time of his death, Morris had been serving as a Mississippi state representative for House District 11, which includes Panola and Tate counties. He won office in 1993 and had run unopposed ever since.

In the state legislature, the District 11 representative served as chairman of the House Medicaid Committee, a position that gave him authority to push for cost-cutting Medicaid reform.

Known in Panola County for his support of economic development, Morris urged his fellow legislators last year at this time to create a state fund that allows communities to apply for monies to upgrade their industrial sites.

Morris’ political career began when he served as a school trustee for the South Panola School District. He was working as relocation officer for the Batesville Housing Authority in 1978 when the school board election broke down largely along racial lines. Morris was elected as the first South Panola black trustee by a margin of 161 votes.

If racial problems arose from that win, friends who knew Morris said he showed no ill will toward others.

"He didn’t keep a chip on his shoulder," recalled childhood friend Lygunnah Bean, who grew up with Morris across McIvor Creek in the adjoining Macedonia community.

Bean was later elected to the school board, where he now serves as president of the board. He followed Morris as the second black elected trustee and over the years leaned on his friend for advice about politics and people.

"Leonard was community minded," Bean said. "Watching him meet people and listen to them and help them, I saw that he really believed that he represented all people."

In Panola County and across the state, Morris was also known for a low-key style that helped him win and keep friends regardless of race, background or political persuasion.

"We may have disagreed over issues but we never had a cross word or raised our voice," said state Rep. Warner McBride of Batesville. "When we rode together, we started out talking politics but we moved into talking about our families and our churches."

Tommy Wren, who served as assistant school district superintendent while Morris served on the school board, recalled that Morris would put aside any disagreements if a board vote didn’t fall in his favor.
"I don’t know that Leonard Morris ever came across anybody that he couldn’t work with," Wren said. "He was a gentleman in all cases."

"One thing Leonard needs to be remembered for is that he knew how to cross the aisle," Bean said. "He knew how to get along with blacks and whites, Republicans and Democrats.

"Some people shunned him for that, thinking he was playing the lines, but he believed in order for business to be done, you’ve got to cross the aisle," Bean continued. "I remember that once I went with him to a Republican fund-raiser. He believed he should be there."

In a January 13 Clarion-Ledger story announcing Morris’ passing, Gulf Coast legislator John Read said colleagues in the House would have voted Morris as their "most-loved member." Read was choking back tears as he talked.

City meet will be brief
Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey said Monday that this week’s meeting of Batesville Board of Mayor and Aldermen will be held as scheduled at 2 p.m. today, Tuesday, Jan. 15, but that he does not expect a quorum.

The funeral of state Rep. Leonard Morris is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. today and most elected officials are expected to attend, Mayor Autrey said. The mayor said that although by law Tuesday’s meeting cannot be cancelled, officials who attend will defer business until Wednesday at 2 p.m when a quorum can be expected.

No public hearings had been scheduled for today’s meeting, the mayor said.

Blood drive starts today
By Rita Howell

A blood drive planned for this week by United Blood Services could help alleviate blood shortages at the Tupelo-based blood bank that serves Tri-Lakes Medical Center and 22 other area hospitals in Mississippi and Alabama.

The drive will be held at the Batesville Junior High School auditorium Tuesday through Thursday.

Because of the scheduled funeral service for Rep. Leonard Morris in the auditorium today at 2:30 p.m., donors today can use three UBS mobile units which will be parked in the school parking lot.

Donations today will be taken from 9 a.m. to
4 p.m.

Hours for donations on Wednesday and Thursday will be 1-8 p.m.

Assisting with the event are members of the South Panola High School AFJROTC, the Tri-Lakes Medical Center Auxiliary, and other community volunteers.

Each donor will receive a t-shirt and will be eligible for door prizes.

Donors must be at least 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds, and be in good health.

King honored, celebrated for leaving ‘road map’ to freedom
By Jason C. Mattox
and Emily Williams

Americans throughout the country reflected yesterday on Martin Luther King’s legacy of racial equality and peace as they remembered him on his birthday.

The sounds of young and old singing "Glory, Glory, Lay My Burdens Down" floated through the streets of Batesville yesterday during the Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative march.

A river of colorful umbrellas flowed down Panola Ave. as 268 citizens marched in the cold rain in his remembrance. King would have been 78 yesterday.

The marchers proceeded to the Batesville Intermediate School Auditorium, where several speakers referred to Dr. King as a "drum major" for civil rights.

Speakers for the celebration event included Dr. Rubert Morgan, Rev. Chris Townsend, Rev. Virginia Pollard, Rev. J.N. Mobley, Rev. Alvin Bailey Sr., Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey and Sardis Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye.

"Dr. King provided a road map so all of the people could find their place in this democracy," Pollard said. "We all want to say ‘thank you’ to Dr. King for being a drum major ready to lead us to peace."

Churches and groups who participated in the march and service afterward included: New Destiny M.B. Church, New Bethlehem, Springhill A.S.A., West Camp M.B. Church, Church of God Armstrong, St. Peter’s, Deliverance Tabernacle, Nelson Chapel, Macedonia M.B. Church, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., Shiloh, Power House, Salem, Mt. Pleasant, Olive Ray, Pilgrim Rest, Johnson Chapel, Mt. Zion, New Life, Concord, Hunter’s Chapel, Mt. Evia, Second Concord, Springhill M.B. Church of Pope, Antioch, South Panola Choir, West Batesville and Viney Creek.

An audience of 468 people stood and sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the Negro National Anthem.

The South Panola High School choir sang the songs "Bound for Jubilee," "Elijah Rock" and "Wade in the Water."

The mayors of Sardis and Batesville read proclamations to those in attendance before offering a few encouraging remarks that triggered a pair of standing ovations.

"We have problems with drugs," Sardis Mayor Rusty Dye said. "We have problems with crime in general.

"The best way to battle those problems is to make sure your children stay in school," he added. "We may still see an attitude of discrimination, but you won’t see it from either one of us."

Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey added that his door is always open to people of the community who have suggestions about the city’s problems.

"This is not about the problems of the blacks or the whites," he said. "This is about doing whatever we can to make the City of Batesville better for all of its citizens."

The keynote speaker for the celebration was Rev. Daryell Harrington of New Sardis MB Church in Memphis.

He quoted from two of King’s speeches including his famous "Mountaintop" speech he gave shortly before his death.

"I thank God for sending that drum major for justice," he said. "That drum major for peace.

"Dr. King didn’t make it to 2007, but he made it long enough to let the world know that the people who are the crust of this Earth will rise again," Harrington added.

"He challenged us to do our best," he continued. "We need to live up to that challenge and go forward from this place today and do our best at whatever we do."

The Dawg gives local look to BCC snacks
By Billy Davis

The concession stands at the Batesville Civic Center received a visit last week from the winner of a two-year contract to operate them.

Lynn Dover-Ray and her concession company, The Dawg House, was the solo bidder for a city contract to operate the two stands at the BCC and also cater events that are held there. The contract begins in February.

The Dawg House has operated as a mobile concession business for weekend events such as fairs and festivals. The company is named for its staple product, crowd-pleasing hotdogs.

The Batesville Mayor and Board of Aldermen approved Ray’s bid and two-year contract at its January 2 meeting.

The current contract holder, Boston Culinary Group, did not rebid.

BCC Director Roy Hyde said Ray’s two-year contract also means she has a "first shot" at events that require catering, such as conferences and meetings.

"After two years she has two one-year options," Hyde told The Panolian.

The concession owner said she will "definitely" cater events at the BCC.

Hyde said The Dawg House is coming to the BCC under promising conditions after the civic center boasted improved figures in 2006.

"We had 19 conferences and seminars in 2005 and 32 in 2006," a 68 percent increase, Hyde said. "In 2005 we had 16 arena events and 26 events in 2006," which equals a 62 percent increase.

Hyde said the bull-riding events on January 12 and 13 pulled in "just under" 900 people for the Friday event and almost 2,000 Saturday.

Hyde said the concession stands will offer "standard fare" such as hamburgers, nachos, popcorn and soft drinks.

Ray toured the concession stands Wednesday with Greg Bellini, a general manager for Boston Culinary Group. Bellini made suggestions about vendors and customers’ tastes, and pointed out concession equipment and its owners, either Boston Culinary or the civic center.

In coming days, Ray must pick a soft drink vendor and decide whether to purchase any or all of Boston Culinary’s equipment.

Reached this week about the winning bid, Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey said he depended largely on Hyde’s good judgment to choose a capable concessions company for the BCC.

"I talked to Roy before the meeting and said, ‘Do you feel good about this? He said, ‘I sure do,’" Autrey recalled.

Asked why Boston Culinary Group did not rebid for the contract, Autrey said he was not told. The mayor instead speculated that arena crowds did not match the size the national company serves at larger venues.

"What I think is that the civic center didn’t provide them the profit they wanted because they’re used to larger crowds, like at the Ole Miss ballgames," the mayor said.

Sardis hires new officer
By Jason C. Mattox

The City of Sardis moved quickly last Monday afternoon to hire a part-time police officer.

The move to hire Chuck Tucker will help fill one of two vacancies in the department.

Tucker is also employed as a jailer with the Panola County Sheriff’s Department.

"We have talked to all of his references, and everyone says he is level-headed and will do a good job for us," Police Chief Mike Davis said.

The hire was approved 3-0. Aldermen Rivers McArthur and Mike Wilson were absent from the meeting.


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