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Itta Bena native steers Brookhaven’s development efforts

Brookhaven — As a child riding the school bus through Itta Bena to Pillow Academy, Cliff Brumfield often daydreamed about living in the stately brick house fronting Roebuck Lake that he passed daily.

“It was nothing tremendous, no castle, but it sat on a big lot on the water,” recalled Brumfield, executive vice president of the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce. “I always thought if I grew up and did well, maybe one day I could live in that house.”

In 1996, Brumfield bought his childhood dream home. He and his growing family lived on the five-acre spread until five years later, when he needed to move closer to Greenwood as executive director of the Greenwood-Leflore Industrial Board and the Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation.

“It was great living out my childhood dream,” said Brumfield, with a smile. “I even had a fishing boat in front of it.”

Buying that lakehouse was one of many goals that Brumfield would achieve at a young age. The son of Willis Brumfield, former Leflore County Chancery Clerk, and his homemaker wife, Martha, Brumfield was born in Greenwood and grew up in Itta Bena, close to the banks of the natural Mississippi Delta oxbow lake and a stone’s throw from the downtown First United Methodist Church.

“Itta Bena was one of the last Mayberrys of its time,” lamented Brumfield. “My mother grew up on the same street I did. I spent a great deal of time hunting and fishing, walking to and from downtown, going to the Southern Café for a Southern burger. I enjoyed the ease of mobility in a close-knit town.”

Three life-altering events occurred when Brumfield was a student at Mississippi State University (MSU). When he was a junior, he approached the dean of the real estate department, hoping to find a position as an unpaid appraiser’s assistant.

“I thought real estate appraisal would be my lifelong profession,” he said.

The late Lyn Scoggins and Art Kennard helped Brumfield find an internship. Kennard sponsored Brumfield when he earned his real estate appraiser license at the age of 21. At MSU, Brumfield also met his wife, Rachel Sullivan, the daughter of the late Supreme Court Justice Mike Sullivan.

In 1992, Brumfield earned a degree in real estate management and finance from MSU and worked as a real estate appraiser until Sullivan graduated a year later, around the same time he was asked to serve as confidential assistant to the administrator of Farmers Home Administration under former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy.

“Rachel and I went from a wedding at Galloway United Methodist Church to Jamaica to Washington, D.C., a week later,” said Brumfield. “She got a job with an agricultural lobbying firm. We were both 23. It was a dynamic time for us, and that experience opened many doors and formed lifelong relationships. Then an opportunity in Greenwood came up and the Lord opened the door for us to go home.”

In July 1994, Brumfield was asked to lead economic development efforts for Greenwood and Leflore County, a position he held for seven years. From 2001 to 2003, he dedicated himself full-time to his business interests, an upscale automotive service center and tire retailer on Park Avenue in Greenwood and a new ATV dealership.

Executives at State Bank and Trust Company successfully recruited Brumfield after a lengthy courtship and he joined the bank in March 2003 as a senior lender in the bank’s Greenwood and McComb branches. He worked alongside his dad, who was the bank’s vice president of marketing.

“I was thoroughly enjoying my career with State Bank and Trust, and was at my desk one day in the fall of 2003 when a phone call came through, passing along word about a chamber position opening in Brookhaven,” said Brumfield. “Having years of experience in economic development and knowing the strong business and elected leadership in Brookhaven, and how fine a community it is, it was very attractive to consider the position.”

Last November, Brumfield was offered the job and happily accepted; his wife joined Becker United Country Realty in Brookhaven as a sales agent.

“We’ve found our home,” said Brumfield. “The same attributes I admired in Itta Bena community leaders are alive and well in Brookhaven except on a bigger scale. This city personifies the lost treasures held by smaller towns of old. This is where our kids will grow up.”

Brumfield and his father remain close friends and business partners. They share ownership of a family tree farm in Montgomery County, where the entire Brumfield clan gathers on a regular basis to explore the woods and enjoy the outdoors.

“I’m the only male in the household with a wife, two daughters and two pets,” said Brumfield, with a chuckle. “So I have to get outdoors every once in a while.”

At work, Brumfield busily fields inquiries about Linbrook, the community’s recently acquired 400 acres for a new industrial park, adjacent to its existing industrial park. “We paid for that with $500,000 private funding and the city and county split the rest,” said Brumfield. “I love that open relationship. It’s awesome communication that makes things so much easier.”

Brumfield, who recently returned from a successful trip to Washington, D.C., seeking funding assistance and prospects for the park, has been working with engineering professionals on the layout.

“It’s our biggest undertaking,” he said, “and it’s going very well.”

He’s also spearheading efforts to light Interstate 55 at exit 40. “We’re one of the only towns on I-55 south of Jackson without lights leading into a major retail thoroughfare,” he said.

Brumfield has also been working closely with the Mississippi Main Street Association. “We have a vibrant downtown with very few vacancies,” he said. “The city is repaving the streets, adding handicap access amenities and reworking the curbs.”

The toughest part of Brumfield’s role, he said, “is getting used to requiring so much patience for bigger projects. The most rewarding part is watching it happen.”

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

About Lynne W. Jeter

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