The 83rd annual meeting of the Delta Council will long be remembered for not only celebrating educational achievements of select high school seniors graduating across the Delta region and economic gains made through regional partnerships fostered through the Delta Council, but also for the overwhelming gratitude given by those in attendance to the man whose behind-the-scenes work galvanized the organization into the fabric comprising four decades of health, economic, and educational advancements in the Mississippi Delta — Chip Morgan.
Dick Flowers, a Tunica County, Miss., producer, past president of the Delta Council, and long-time friend of Morgan, recounted some of the work “Chip” brought to fruition over the years. “Chip is a master of guiding people to positive outcomes — often leaving no footprints,” said Flowers. “He understands the work of the Delta Council is not accomplished by staff alone, but by all of those who work hard to make the Delta a better place to live, work, and play.”
Under Morgan’s direction, the Delta Council played significant roles in countless Delta-centric projects like the 1987 Four Lanes Program, improved flood protection, and years of significant farm and rural development legislation. When Flowers was president of the Delta Council in 1983, he learned quickly that Morgan did some of his best work early in the morning and late at night. “He would wake me up in the morning and put me to bed at night,” quipped Flowers, as the crowd at Delta State University’s Bologna Center erupted with laughter.
Morgan will be stepping away from the role of Delta Council executive vice president, but leaving it in the more-than-capable-hands of Frank Howell. “I could not support Frank more and our board’s decision to have him assume this role at the Delta Council,” said Morgan. “I’ll still be around. I’m not going away.”
Tribute to Cochran
Before leaving the stage, Morgan told the crowd his heart was heavy because one of the Delta’s greatest friends — Thad Cochran — was not on stage sitting beside the current Delta Council president. “Thad is probably sitting on the deck of his home in Oxford, and for the first time in many years, he’s taking care of himself instead of the people in this room,” said Morgan. “He has been at this meeting each year since 1972 when he first went to Washington to serve the people of Mississippi.”
Cochran is called “The Quiet Persuader” by those in influential Washington political circles. Morgan told a story about how Cochran once departed from his bipartisan colleagues and yielded to a Minnesota senator, putting at risk everything Cochran had worked for in the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Morgan will never forget Cochran’s answer when Morgan asked why he yielded. “I find during those rare times when you are holding a straight flush, you win the real game of life by folding and allowing the other guy to win so he can maintain some dignity with his following,” said Cochran.
In a 1964 commencement ceremony, Cochran recited a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King that Morgan remembers to this day. “Cochran told the graduates that Dr. King once said, ‘The time is always right to do what is right.’” This reminded Morgan of his long-time friend he simply calls Thad.
Flowers announced the Delta Council will be forming a special endowment for the B.F. Smith Foundation in Morgan’s honor to help identify opportunities and meet challenges faced through the Delta Council.
EPA Administrator Delivers Keynote Address
Not announced until just a few days before the meeting, Scott Pruitt, current administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was the keynote speaker for the 83nd Delta Council meeting in Cleveland, Miss. Pruitt is the 14th administrator. He was nominated by President Donald Trump and confirmed on Feb. 17, 2017.
Pruitt, introduced by U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, was a standout athlete and earned a scholarship to play second base at the University of Kentucky. “Scott is a competitor and President Trump’s most consequential cabinet officials,” said Wicker. “Based on his successes, it’s no surprise President Trump signaled him out early to be the next administrator.”
Pruitt’s rapid-fire speaking style highlighted gains made since taking office and the “America First” strategy on which Trump’s campaign was based. Pruitt’s address came on the one-year anniversary of Trump withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Accord. “That was a historic decision, and just one example of our president living up to his campaign promises,” said Pruitt.
He provided insight into gains made by the EPA which included an almost 20 percent drop in the country’s carbon dioxide emissions between 2000 and 2014. “In the last couple of weeks, that figure has been updated another 2-plus percent reduction,” added Pruitt.
The EPA has engaged in significant regulatory changes since Pruitt took the helm. “We have taken over 24 regulatory actions in the first year alone, and we’re working on doubling that number right now,” explained Pruitt. “These actions resulted in a billion dollars of savings to the American economy.”
Pruitt also eluded to EPA’s on-going efforts to continue cleaning up “Super Fund” sites across the country that put lead and dioxins in both soil and water. “We will have 10 times the number of sites cleaned up this year as compared to those cleaned in 2017,” he explained. “We are also working to reduce regulatory burdens on American businesses.”
New President, Accolades, and Honors
George King, a producer from south Washington County, Miss., and outgoing president of the Delta Council, announced Woods Eastland as the 83rd president of the Delta Council. Eastland of Indianola, Miss., retired as president and CEO of Staplcotn in 2010. “I am certainly honored to be chosen to be the next president of this organization,” said Eastland. “I assure each of you that my wife, Lynn, and I will carry on the tradition of service given by all former Delta Council presidents and their spouses. I look forward to working with Chip, Frank, and the Delta Council staff.”
Eastland is a past chairman of the National Cotton Council, was a member of the board of managers of the New York Cotton Exchange, and became a member of the board of governors of the New York Board of Trade when it was formed from the merger of the Cotton and Coffee, Sugar, and Cocoa Exchanges.
High school graduates honored
Outstanding graduates from public, parochial, and private high schools across the Mississippi Delta were once again recognized and honored during the “Salute to Delta Honor Graduates” ceremony at the Delta Council meeting.
Students were selected by higher education officials from across the region for their outstanding academic achievements. Dr. Alfred Rankins Jr., president, Alcorn State University, and commissioner-elect for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Education, along with Mississippi State Sen. Briggs Hopson, vice-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a member of the Universities and Colleges Committee, gave accolades to the graduates, their families, and school officials before presenting each graduate with an engraved certificate.
“This tradition was created to bestow honor on Mississippi Delta students who dedicated the time and effort it takes to succeed, move on to college, and hopefully establish their careers in this region,” said King.
Emma Peacock, Nesbit, Miss., graduating senior from Desoto Central High School, was selected as the Delta’s Top Honor Graduate. A $2,500 check will be presented in her name and honor to the bursar’s office at Auburn University. She is the valedictorian, a National Merit finalist, Graduate of Special Distinction, Hall of Fame member, AP Scholar, Student of the Month, and Reaching for the Stars Recipient, and holds the highest scholastic average in several classes.
A former vice president of the Delta Council, Jamie Murrell from Arcola, Miss., was named the Good Middling Recipient for 2018. Coined after the term “good middling,” the highest grade in quality cotton production, the award recognizes individuals who have put forth significant efforts to promote the community and economic vitality in the Mississippi Delta.
She is on the board of directors for United Way of Washington County, the B.B. King Museum, the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Greenville Arts Council. “Jamie epitomizes what leadership, hard work, and creativity can bring to our communities and organizations,” says Irene Long, Sunflower County, Miss., Delta Council Arrangements chairwoman. “The Delta is fortunate to have this West Point native in so many positions of leadership.”
Murrell is the first vice president of Marketing for Planters Bank and Trust Company and a Mississippi State University alumna.
Selected by various committee peer members, Delta Council “Achievement Awards” were presented to outstanding farmers, researchers, and other ag leaders on the Quadrangle Lawn. This year’s winners included: Outstanding Rice Producer, Ransom Myers, Dundee, Miss.; Outstanding Soybean Producer, James C. “Buddy” Morgan III, Morgan, Miss.; Outstanding Cotton Ginner, Johnny Laney Jr., Lyon, Miss.; Outstanding Contributions to Hardwood Forestry, Mike State, Lake Village, Ark.; Conservation Farmer, Mike Wagner, Sumner, Miss.; Researcher of the Year, Wayne Ebelhar, Delta Research & Extension Center; Pace-Setter Award, B. Jones, Tchula, Miss., and Outstanding Contributions to Aquaculture, Dr. David Wise, Thad Cochran National Warmwater Aquaculture Center, Stoneville, Miss.
The Delta Council annual meeting seems to always coincide with abundant heat units, and this year was no exception. The only thing warmer than those wearing their seersucker suits on the Quadrangle Lawn was the fried catfish that continues to be the staple food choice after all other meeting activities are concluded.