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Statewide Economic Council Honors MC College Alum by Naming Leadership Award in His Honor

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Mississippi Sen. Robin Robinson, center, receives the first Bob Pittman Excellence in Leadership Award from Scott Walker, president and CEO of the Mississippi Economic Council, while Pittman’s daughter, Dianne Pittman Holbert, looks on during the 2024 “Pathways to Success” STAR Education Celebration April 4 at the Clyde Muse Center in Pearl.

Bob W. Pittman dedicated his career to strengthening Miss-issippi’s education system, improving county government, and developing legislation to create a robust business climate in the state.

The state’s largest business and professional organization is making sure the Mississippi College alum’s legacy will never be forgotten.

The Mississippi Economic Council honored Pittman, one of MC’s most ardent supporters, by naming a leadership award in his honor. The Bob Pittman Excellence in Leadership Award was unveiled April 4 during the MEC’s 2024 “Pathways to Success” STAR Students and STAR Teachers Celebration at the Clyde Muse Center in Pearl. MC President Blake Thompson saluted the STAR students and teachers during the event.

Vickie Powell, MEC senior vice president, foundations, said the award recognizes Pittman’s 32 years of exceptional leadership as president and CEO of the council.

“Mr. Pittman was a strong figure and a leader in the state,” Powell said. “The criteria for the award reflect the exceptional qualities he demonstrated. They include being an excellent role model, inspiring others to work collaboratively and creatively, demonstrating initiative, promoting a work environment that is respectful and supportive, and fostering pride in Mississippi and the MEC.”

The first recipient of the Bob Pittman Excellence in Leadership Award is Mississippi Sen. Robin Robinson of District 42. Robinson fashioned a distinguished business career with Sanderson Farms before entering the political arena.

Elected in November 2023 to serve the people of the Hattiesburg and Laurel areas, Robinson is vice chair of the Senate Tourism Committee, secretary of the Appropriations Com-mittee, and secretary of the Education Com-mittee, among other committee service. Before her Senate election, she served the people of District 88 in the Mississippi House of Representatives.

“Since this was the first year for the Bob Pittman Excellence in Leadership Award, we set the bar high,” Powell said. “We wanted to have a solid measuring stick for future candidates for the award to aspire.”

The award is not the first time the Mississippi Economic Council has honored Pittman. In 2012, the MEC created the Bob W. Pittman Leadership Mississippi Media Scholarship, presented at the council’s annual “Hobnob” event to a member of the media to fund his or her participation in the Leadership Mississippi program. Pittman died on Aug. 2, 2020.

“Bobby was a talented writer, a gifted athlete, and a loyal friend to many,” said his sister, Jean Pittman Williams. “He was an optimist who always saw the glass half full. His life was guided by strong Christian ethics and a love for his family.

“I’m grateful for having had him in my life.”

Pittman founded the MEC’s Student-Teacher Achievement Recognition (STAR) Program – the most prestigious educational recognition in the state – to celebrate outstanding students and teachers across Mississippi. High School seniors with the highest ACT scores and scholastic averages from more than 300 public, private, and parochial schools are eligible to receive STAR scholarships. Next year, the program will celebrate its 60th anniversary.

He also created the J.C. and Annie Redd Leadership Mississippi Program – the second-oldest leadership program in the nation – to connect emerging leaders in and around the state. Mississippi’s top business executives, community leaders, and a former governor have participated in Leadership Mississippi.

“Mr. Pittman had a vision for the future and a love for the state,” Powell said. “That’s apparent by the continuous growth of the Leadership Mississippi program and the STAR Student program. They have continued to thrive.”

Pittman was hand-selected by M.B. Swayze, the Mississippi Economic Council’s founder, to succeed him as president and CEO of the MEC. Pittman’s other accomplishments during his tenure as head of the MEC include changing the selection process for the office of the state superintendent of education from an elected to an appointed official, adoption of the county unit system, tort reforms, and separating the offices of sheriff and tax collector, among others. He worked with business leaders from across the state to further good legislation in Mississippi.

As an undergraduate student at MC, Pittman served as editor of the “Collegian” and captain of the Choctaws baseball team, on which he played with his brothers Jimmy and Milton. He graduated from MC in 1954 with a B.S. in political science, and in 2000, joined Jimmy, Jean, and Milton to become the first group of siblings to receive the prestigious Order of the Golden Arrow alumni honor.

After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, Pittman obtained his law degree from the Jackson School of Law – now the Mississippi College School of Law – and assumed the MEC presidency in 1966. After retiring, he founded the Lamar Times, a weekly newspaper in Hattiesburg. He was a lifetime deacon in the First Baptist Church of Jackson.

Powell said she worked closely with Robinson, who served as chair of the STAR Student program, for several years.

“I met her when I came to work at the MEC in 2006,” Powell said. “She was phenomenal. She also served as a past chair of Leadership Mississippi.

“She’s a lifelong advocate for education – that’s why she was selected for this honor.”

In addition to receiving the first Bob Pittman Excellence in Leadership Award, Robinson was named a “Business Champion” by the Business and Political Education Committee for her support of the business community. She also received an “A” rating from the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police.

A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, she was a trailblazer for female leadership in the poultry industry during a 40-year career at Sanderson Farms. Director of the only Fortune 1000 company headquartered in the state of Mississippi, Robinson serves as chair of the board for the Jones County Junior College Foundation and chair of the board for the Girl Scouts of Greater Mississippi.

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