How much does what we read as youngsters influence the adults we become? Aside from the pure joy of growing up with books, it might be said that in many ways we are what we read. Wondering what Mississippians from different walks of life would list as a favorite book, the Mississippi Business Journal contacted government, business and professional leaders and asked them to name any book from preschool age through high school that made an impact on their lives.
Gov. Haley Barbour, who grew up in Yazoo City, said no one particular book stands out but he liked reading books about the Civil War.
University of Mississippi School of Education Dean Tom Burnham cited “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss for its great lesson in life, not only for children but adults as well.
The popular Dr. Seuss turns up again with Lou Ann Flatgard, senior vice president of account service at Maris, West & Baker of Jackson. “I’m a huge Dr. Seuss fan and have a great memory of my great aunt Lois Davis reading ‘Bartholomew and the Oobleck’ to me, one of his lesser known books,” she said. “My Aunt Lois gave the book to me a few years ago and I have it sitting on my coffee table at home because it’s very special to me.”
Gray Swoope, assistant director of the Mississippi Development Authority, says Dr. Seuss books were favorites with him too while growing up in West Point.
“But, I’d have to say ‘Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel’ is my all-time favorite,” he said. “I had it out recently reading it to my daughter, Anne Carrie, who’s in first grade.”
French author Alexander Dumas made a big impression on Mark Leggett, director of government affairs for the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, when he was a kid in New Orleans. He was introduced to “The Tree Musketeers” through a after-school movie and especially liked the swashbuckling Errol Flynn.
“I wanted to swashbuckle and rescue maidens so I read the book and was captured,” Leggett said. “I went on to read the others in the series, ‘Twenty Years After’ and ‘Ten Years Later’ about the further exploits of the aging Musketeers.”
He even made maps of France and England to plot the travels of the exciting trio. Later, he read “The Man in the Iron Mask” and “The Count of Monte Cristo,” also by Dumas.
Reading books about sports heroes was a great pleasure for Bobby Dews, vice president of C.L. Dews & Sons Foundry & Machinery in Hattiesburg.
“My father was a great athlete and had me interested in sports at a young age. He named me Bobby because it sounded like a good baseball player’s name in the early 1950s,” Dews said. “I could not wait until the baseball game of the week with Dizzy Dean and I looked up to those players.”
Dews, who is chairman of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association Board of Trustees, says he was also intrigued by the Civil War and read books about that historical event.
Growing up in Piedmont, Okla., a farm community in the central part of the state, Steve Dickerson says his favorite book was “The Little Train That Could” because it gave him great hope that he could do anything he wanted if he was willing to work hard and have faith.
“It was a very positive message that has lasted throughout my life,” he said. “It’s amazing how many times it has come up in my thoughts.”
Dickerson, who is the business development director for the City of Gulfport, said he was surrounded by people reading as a child and is thankful for that early influence.
In the neighboring state of Texas, Anna Bomba was growing up in Port Lavaca where she enjoyed reading “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown and “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” by Judy Blume. Meeting Blume made a big impression on her too.
Now an associate professor of family and consumer sciences at the University of Mississippi, she says, “Goodnight Moon” is such a cozy, comfortable book with gentle phrasing and lovely pictures. “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” has such a great depiction of school and family life.
State Superintendent of Education Dr. Henry Johnson grew up in North Carolina, earned college degrees there and moved to Jackson in 2002. In grade school he liked the book “Black Beauty.”
“As I got older, my family teased me about reading the encyclopedia,” he said. “At that point, I read more for content than leisure, especially science.”
The encyclopedia was also a favorite with John Henry, an assistant attorney general with the State Attorney General’s office. “When I was eight years old, I spent nearly every summer day reading the World Book,” he said. “Other favorites were ‘The Civil War” with its clear description of the major battles and attractive maps showing the movements made by the troops during the battles.”
Growing up in Columbus, he was influenced by his father’s interest in history and enjoyed reading the elder Henry’s books about World War II.
David P. Rumbarger, president of the Community Development Foundation in Tupelo, also loves history and was a voracious reader while growing up in Birmingham, Ala. He remembers many happy hours with his mom reading to him and going to summer reading programs at the public library. As a teenager, his favorite books were “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Run Silent, Run Deep,” “Guadacanal Diaries” and “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo.”
“I’ve enjoyed going back with my kids as they’ve read some of the same books,” he said. “My son and I discussed ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ after he read it and then watched the movie together and discussed the differences. That’s a good thing for a 17-year-old and a 45-year-old to do together.”
James S. McIlwain, M.D., president and CEO of Information and Quality Healthcare of Ridgeland, says the Bible was his favorite book and has had a very powerful influence on his life.
“During my childhood and teenage years, I participated in many church activities as directed by my father and mother,” he said. “Scripture from the Bible was the foundation of my early church learning experiences. I must say that it was later in my life before I could understand the true essence of the Bible and how tremendous is this instruction book for living life.”
Operations manager for University Communications in Oxford, Debbie Binkley lists “Babar” by Jean DeBrunhoff as her favorite childhood book. “I think it was as much the artwork as the story line, although the story was good,” she said. “I grew up in rural Lafayette County and the pictures were so pretty and different from any I was used to seeing.”
Biographies of famous people were the favorites of Suzanne Russell growing up in Wesson where her dad, Ray Busby, a junior college history instructor, greatly influenced her. He sometimes let her attend his American history, world politics and government lectures and regularly took her to the small town library.
“I can still see the little blue books neatly arranged, in alphabetical order, and filled with fascinating stories of famous people from Davy Crockett to Abraham Lincoln to Lewis and Clark to Susan B. Anthony,” she said. “Reading those biographies played a major role in my life. They not only delighted me with exciting true stories but gave me a strong foundation in history.”
A former teacher, Russell has worked as a therapist and is presently the parent education coordinator of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in Mississippi.
Have a favorite book? Let us know about it with an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.
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