Rayborn, Mabus sharing lasting friendship

Published 5:00 am Monday, June 22, 2009

The ascension of former Gov. Ray Mabus to the post of U.S.Secretary of the Navy last week was a proud moment forMississippians, but it bore special significance for one Brookhavenman.

Jerrod Rayborn, a 22-year-old political science major atMississippi College, has been a friend and supporter of Mabus sincehe was 4 years old. He has personally witnessed Mabus’ climb up thepolitical ladder, from governor to U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabiaand now to navy secretary, where he will oversee almost 1 millionsailors and Marines.

The old politician and his young protégé have kept in closecontact over the years. When Mabus took the oath of office lastweek, Rayborn was there – by personal invitation.

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“I’m proud because it’s a huge honor for a Mississippi person toclimb this high,” Rayborn said. “I’m also proud because this issomeone I have known since I was 4 years old – someone I actuallyknow personally who has basically invested his time and effort intome.”

The friendship began 18 years ago, when Rayborn unknowingly didMabus a huge favor. The then-governor was giving a speech atJackson’s Deposit Guaranty to a tough crowd when the young Rayborn- who had become separated from his mother, Rhonda Rayborn, duringa shopping trip – burst into the room.

“I just ran into the room in the middle of his speech andyelled, ‘Hey, Ray Mabus!'” Rayborn said. “He comes running out ofthe room afterward, wanting to know who I was. He liked it; hethought it was funny. He told my mom he’d had a tough crowd at thespeech and that kind of lightened things up.”

Even at age 4, Rayborn knew Mabus on sight because of his dailyhabit of watching the afternoon news with his parents. He alsoasked the governor where George H. W. Bush was – since the nationalnews came on TV right after state news, Rayborn was sure thegovernor and president were always close by.

Rayborn also unknowingly quoted his grandmother’s anti-Mabusslogan, telling the governor, “No lottery Ray Mabus.”

Mabus was moved by the youngster, who continued to provide himwith hilarious, childish moments.

“He brought me with him to the Neshoba County Fair to help himout with his campaign,” Rayborn said. “I was selling lemonade for anickel, and a man handed me a $20 bill. I said, ‘Thank you,’ andput his money in the box.

“He was standing there asking if he was gonna get any change,and I told him I was 4 years old and I couldn’t count, and Mabusappreciated his donations and wouldn’t waste a penny of hismoney.”

Rayborn even took his unabashed support for Mabus on the air,appearing with the governor on a radio talk show during hisDemocratic primary run against former congressman Wayne Dowdy.

“They asked me on the air what I thought about Wayne Dowdy, andI said, ‘The only person that’s gonna vote for Wayne Dowdy is WayneDowdy,'” Rayborn recalled.

At that point, the friendship was cemented.

Rayborn said he has kept up with Mabus throughout his life. Heattended Mabus’ wedding, received a gift from the governor when hegraduated high school and in 18 years has never missed Mabus’annual Christmas party at his home in Madison.

While in Washington, D.C., awaiting Mabus’ swearing-in ceremony,Rayborn got to tour some of the nation’s most important landmarks.He visited the Lincoln Memorial; the United States HolocaustMemorial Museum; and received a behind-the-scenes tour of theCapitol from Brookhaven’s Kern Hoff, who works with Sen. RogerWicker.

Rayborn also visited Nationals Park – home of the WashingtonNationals baseball team – and saw Democrat and Republicancongressmen square off in a fundraiser on the diamond. He saidWicker turned his cap inside out and wore it as a rally cap, andRep. Gregg Harper had a hard time running the bases. He did not saywhether Harper’s difficulties resulted in an eventual win by theDemocrats.

“Some of those old congressman can hit that baseball,” Raybornsaid. “There were some amazing plays.”

After Mabus’ swearing-in as the 75th Secretary of the Navy -which included an opening address by Secretary of Defense RobertGates, a Marine Corps drill team and a naval gunfire salute -Rayborn caught back up with his governor and was invited back toWashington to have lunch with Mabus at his new office in thePentagon.

“When he was running for governor, his slogan was, ‘MississippiWill Never be Last Again,'” Rayborn said. “Now he’s just gottenbigger, and it’s not just Mississippi he’s trying to make a betterplace. It’s all of America.

“I told him I’d been raising money for him for a long time, butI think I’m gonna need a bigger lemonade stand,” Rayborn continued.”He looked at me and laughed and said yes, I will need a lot biggerlemonade stand.”