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Gary Bailey’s passion shines in work, community service

Tupelo — In the late night closing hours of the 2005 Tupelo Elvis Festival, volunteer Carl Brandenburg brought the core planning team to tears, bragging on the staff at JBHM Architects for their “great hearts and commitment.”

Once again, at the center of the architectural firm’s volunteer efforts for the June 3-5 event was festival chairman and JBHM partner Gary Bailey, AIA, who made certain that JBHM was a major sponsor and the Tupelo office produced plenty of “Elvis assistants.”

“Tupelo was alive and rocking,” said Bailey. “It was good to have over 10,000 people downtown shopping, eating and spending money in our community. It was a great success and we made money for Downtown Main Street.”

Bailey, vice president of the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association, had a tough task this year. After disappointing ticket sales for 2003 and 2004, the Tupelo Elvis Festival faced the possibility of a final curtain. The Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau had cut total contributions to the festival from $100,000 in 2003 to $50,000 in 2004, and the event had lost more than $8,000 in two years.

“This year, we were successful,” said Bailey. “We don’t have the final numbers in yet, but we know we made a good profit, had great attendance and everyone is happy.”

Two early goals

Bailey’s enthusiasm for the triumph of the landmark event surprised no one. Since he was a child, he has been certain of two goals: to work as an architect and to serve his community.

“I’ve wanted to be an architect since I was eight years old,” said Bailey, the older of two children born to Clayton Bailey, an insurance executive, and Patsy Bailey, a trucking industry manager. “I grew up in Memphis and my grandmother took me downtown regularly and I fell in love with the buildings. I’d stand outside and study them. I was fascinated, especially with Goldsmith’s Department Store. I asked my grandmother, ‘Who makes that building happen?’ And she said, ‘I think architects do, but I don’t really know,’ so I started asking around what architects do for a living.

“In the seventh grade at Whitten Junior High in Jackson, I started taking drafting classes. I had a great art teacher who helped me fall in love with the artistic side of design. By the 11th grade, I was committed to a career in architecture. I didn’t have much money and didn’t know how I was going to afford the education, but once I visited Mississippi State’s architecture program, I was hooked. My parents stuck by me and supported me and helped me get the right education.”

After graduation, Bailey worked for McRee Dardaman Jones in Grenada, Samuel Kaye, AIA, in Columbus, and Dean/Dale/Dean & Ivy in Columbus before forming Johnson Bailey Henderson McNeel (JBHM) Architects, P.A., in Tupelo in 1987. The company now includes six divisions; Bailey is president of JBHM Education Group.

Today, Bailey has more than 20 years of experience in architecture and project management. In the last five years alone, he has served as the key design professional for more than $300 million in major education design projects throughout the southeast. His work has earned AIA Mississippi chapter Honor Awards for Design and the Tennessee Valley Authority First Place Energy Design Award. Most recently, he served as project architect for the award-winning Chastain Middle School in Jackson.

Greatest challenge?

“My greatest challenge was surviving college,” said Bailey, a frequent guest lecturer at his alma mater. “I was a poor young man and just about to starve to death. Just the determination to fight for something that I wanted to do makes me choke up thinking about it. It’s tough, but if you have a vision, you fight through it and do what you’ve got to do to achieve your dream. And that was mine.”

Bailey and his wife, Kay, an Ackerman native and Montessori schoolteacher, have two daughters in college. Kimberly Bailey, 22, will soon graduate from Mississippi State University with a degree in graphic design, and Abby Bailey, 19, is majoring in education at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.

Now with an empty nest, Bailey can write poetry more often — and crank up the volume to Bob Dylan tunes.

“Interestingly enough, I am not an Elvis fan,” said Bailey, “but I’m a Tupelo fan.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.


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