Those on my List of Wished-for Governors:
George Bryan, Owen Cooper, Donald Lutken, and others
When considering a Mississippi governor’s race, I often think of those people who never entered a political election, wishing they had for the state’s sake.
The recent death of one of Mississippi’s best-known names in the business world – that of George Bryan of West Point – is my starting point on this subject.
After reading Rick Cleveland’s column in Mississippi Today about Bryan’s death, I thought, “Goodness, he could have made a great governor and brought the state unprecedented success.”
It is unlikely most of those on my list of wished-for governors – those individuals with the business and other skills needed to lead Mississippi out of the socio-economic wilderness – would ever have sought the chair, including Bryan, who died in January at age 78.
The headline above Cleveland’s article on Bryan said a lot: “George Bryan: A mover, shaker and, above all, a kind gentleman” – excellent traits for any top job.
Bryan grew up in the family business, Bryan Brothers Packing Co., which produced myriad food items at their West Point base, beginning in 1936, shipping nationwide. They can still be found in regional grocery markets today under that label.
Bryan became president and CEO of Illinois-based Sara Lee Foods after the giant firm bought out Bryan Brothers in the 1970’s. Bryan also developed the Old Waverly golf course near West Point, which was the site for the prestigious 1999 Women’s U.S. Open. He was a prime financial supporter of his alma mater, Mississippi State University.
Former MSU athletics director Larry Templeton said of Bryan: “He could see the possibilities when nobody else saw them and then make those possibilities into realities.”
Some others of that developer-genus on my wishful governors’ list are industrialists Charles Holder of Bay Springs, Owen Cooper of Yazoo City, Fred Carl of Greenwood, Jerry St. Pe’ of Moss Point, Donald Lutken of Jackson, Warren Hood of Jackson, H.F. McCarty of Magee, Jesse Brent of Greenville and Joe Frank Sanderson of Laurel, to name a few with the requisite skills for the position.
All of these folks could have followed the steps of McComb native Hugh L. White, a businessman who as governor from 1936-1940 and 1952-1956 proved that agriculture could co-exist with industry through his Balance Agriculture With Industry program.
The BAWI program ushered in a new era of economic development in a state that previously had mostly survived economically on the backs of thousands of varied farm operations.
First of its kind in any American state, the program utilized monies raised through local bond issues to attract manufacturing interests from outside the state. City and county governments would build a speculative factory site and rent or sell it to companies investing in Mississippi.
White’s plan revolutionized the state’s workforce, providing many women who’d never worked outside the home with jobs in textile and other manufacturing settings. Most towns from the late 1930’s through the 1980’s relished the presence of such industrial environs, which often helped to lure more sophisticated companies like Ingalls Shipbuilding, long the state’s largest private employer.
Good or great governors do not necessarily come from the business world, but those abilities are certainly worthy for the office. What about Malcolm White, longtime co-owner of the ultra-successful Hal and Mal’s restaurant in Jackson?
His business and promotional talents also touched the cultural arts and other interests meaningful to Mississippi. Think about it.
I wouldn’t dare try to rank the best of Mississippi governors since statehood. Someday I might tackle the other end – the lower one – but I won’t reveal my worst-ever choice just yet, despite having a good idea on the subject.