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Charismatic Connections

In the grab bag of words describing The South, “hospitality” and”connections” are easy to find.

Meet someone from the Magnolia State for the first time, and the questions will fly – “Where are you from?” “Oh, do you know (insert name here)?” “Well, how is (insert name here) doing?” ….

More often than not, the exchange of pleasantries will yield someone, and probably more than just one someone, in common.

The “connections” we make are not only with people, but withplaces as well. In Mississippi, a place can make a connection with you even when you weren’t looking for it.

You see, I didn’t expect to come here. Somehow, through a convoluted network of mutual newspaper friends, Bill Jacobs, The DAILY LEADER publisher, learned of my interest in coming back to newspaper work and back to Mississippi.

I’ve spent most of my career working for newspapers, most recently as the managing editor of The Commercial Dispatch in my hometown of Columbus. But for the past three years, I was working in another field in the Birmingham, Ala., area.

When Bill first talked with me, he asked if I’d ever been to Brookhaven, and I told him I didn’t believe I had, although I knew people from there, of course.

After we talked, I “Googled” Brookhaven. I came across Henry Ware Hobbs’ 1992 town history. The lead of Hobbs’ article grabbed me: “Brookhaven is a survivor with charisma.” “Sounds like a middle-aged woman,” I thought, smiling. I could relate.

On my first visit here, Brookhaven started reeling me in. Bill drove me through Old Towne. It felt like home – literally.

Brookhaven’s resemblance to my hometown, Columbus, is striking.

Both towns have vibrant downtowns with shops and upstairs apartments. Both cities have historic districts. Both towns have family-owned newspapers – the best kind of newspapers.

Both cities also have been college towns. In Brookhaven, Whitworth College went on to become the Mississippi School of the Arts, while the Mississippi University for Women campus in Columbus now also houses the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science.

Both towns grew up along railroads, although Columbus has the Tombigbee River, too – now the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

After staying at The Inez these past few weeks and as I now prepare to move into my new home here, I’ve been hearing the stories of other people that charismatic Brookhaven drew here.

People like George Brumfield, retired Brookhaven schools superintendent, who applied for a job in McComb but somehow wound up in Brookhaven in 1963 and has been here ever since.

Or the Rev. Anne Williams, who grew up in Texas and was looking for a church when, out of all the places that could have come open,she was offered the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer here. This is the same church that Anne’s grandfather shepherded many years ago.

I’m glad to be one of the many people that Brookhaven has reached out to and pulled in. Now I’m looking forward to getting to know more about my new hometown and its people. I’m eager to hear your stories.

General Manager Rachel Eide can be reached at The DAILY LEADER at 601-833-6961 ext. 153; by e-mail at reide@dailyleader.com; or via mail at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602-0551.