The title of Billy Mounger’s book, “Amidst the Fray,” is appropriate. The lifelong Jacksonian has never flinched from wading into a fray for things he believes in, whether it was a high school brawl to defend someone’s honor or being in the trenches to establish the Republican Party in Mississippi.
“People have been telling me for 30 years that I should write a book about the things I’ve done, mainly on the political side. The business side is not that interesting,” he said.
The 400-page memoir was published by Quail Ridge Press of Brandon and is subtitled “My Life in Politics, Culture and Mississippi.” It also contains letters, historical notes and photographs.
Not one to mince words, Mounger says of his days at the old Jackson Central High School, “In those days that’s where everybody went to school if they weren’t black or Catholic. I got in some fights and they were renowned. I tend to get involved in things; maybe it’s fights to protect someone’s honor. I stick my nose in things and do what no one else wants to do.”
The scrappy Mounger, at five feet seven inches tall and weighing 165 pounds, played high school football in the Big Eight Conference and made the first team. He was one of 27 players around the country recruited to United States Military Academy at West Point but failed to make the team there.
“I found myself 50 miles north of New York City and couldn’t play football,” he recalls. “I gritted my teeth and said I wouldn’t go home.”
After graduation in 1948, he spent five years in the U.S. Army Air Corps that later became the Air Force. He then earned another bachelor’s degree and a master’s in petroleum engineering from the University of Oklahoma before going to work for Humble Oil Company, a subsidiary of Standard Oil.
Although his father thought he was wasting his money, Mounger invested funds in the fledgling oil fields of Pike and Lincoln counties upon returning to Jackson in 1958.
“Other people thought I was smart because I had those degrees in petroleum engineering and the oil field hit,” he says. “I was lucky as heck with oil field production.”
Mounger has had a long, successful career in oil production. That entrepreneurship has been paralleled by his illustrious involvement with the Republican Party in Mississippi and nationally.
“I happily immersed myself in the Republican Party,” he said. “I was called on to help and started giving $25 a month. Then I got more and more involved. Number one, I’m a conservative and joined the Republican Party because of my beliefs. I feel it’s Biblically-based. I’m not always that happy with them, but the Republican Party is the best vehicle to carry through my philosophy.”
Early on Mounger decided working behind the scenes was best for him. “I considered running for office, and I sat down and approached it like I do all things. I made a list to run and a list not to run,” he said. “The not-tos list outnumbered the dos.”
He carved out a powerful niche as a party financier and says he’s glad he didn’t run. “I’m too controversial and it would make people happy to vote against me,” he feels. “I tend to get involved in things. That’s where I came up with the title of the book.”
Because he got lucky in business early on, Mounger has been an independent thinker. “I’m outspoken and always tell the truth,” he says. “Unfortunately, I try to make everyone understand what I mean and that irritates people. I don’t want to cater to someone I don’t like.”
When Mounger got involved with the fledgling Republican Party in Mississippi, Democrats were deeply engrained. He describes the state as the most Democratic in the union in 1963 when he and others supported Republican Rubel Phillips for governor. They were not able to even get their candidate on the ballot in all of Mississippi’s counties.
“At that time, a friend asked me, ‘why are you getting involved in the Republican Party? You can’t raise money or get anyone elected.’,” Mounger remembers. “Now I can say, look at the success we’ve had!”
The work he did to help elect Ronald Reagan president is a source of pride for this Republican Party dynamo who served as Reagan’s state finance chairman for seven years. He went on to be Reagan’s southern finance chairman over several states in 1980. There are several photos with Reagan in the book.
“Electing Ronald Reagan president gave me a lot of satisfaction; that and the overall growth of the party in the state,” he said. “It makes me extremely proud to have been a part of all that.”
There are, however, some moments in the state’s Republican Party history of which he is not proud. He recalls the embarrassing incidents with Congressman Jon Hinson and Gov. Bill Allain.
“My wife was surprised I was putting those things in the book,” he said. “They happened and I couldn’t ignore any of it even though it was dirty.”
Now 81 years of age, Mounger continues to do the business and political things he’s always done. “I’m not retired. I’m essentially doing the same things I’ve always done,” he says. “My wife doesn’t want me to retire but she wishes I wouldn’t do the political stuff.”
He acknowledges that his business success has enabled him to be generous with such worthwhile events as the International Ballet Competition and the world-class art exhibits that have come to Jackson.
“I’ve been immeasurably blessed and I give thanks for that several times a day,” he said. “The Lord has blessed me.”
Mounger says people might be surprised to learn of his deep faith in spite of his tough outer shell. He is a long time, active member of First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, being sure to emphasize that it’s part of the Presbyterian Church of America.
“Anyone softens over the years. You realize you’re mortal,” he said.
Asked about regrets in his busy life, Mounger answers. “I’ve done some dumb things like everyone else, but not on major things. I wish I could have played football in college, but that’s what got me to West Point. Between getting out of the service and going to school in Oklahoma, I moved back to Jackson. It seemed like a mistake, but I wouldn’t have met my wife if I hadn’t done that.”
He and the former Jan Gore have been married 51 years. They are the parents of two sons, William Malcolm Mounger II, who’s named for Billy Mounger’s dad, and Robert Gore Mounger, and they have five grandchildren.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.