Gwen James of Hattiesburg is looking forward to serving as president of the Mississippi Association of Realtors (MAR). Her term begins at the group’s state convention December 6, when long-time friend Gray Swoope, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, will install her.
Being installed by the state’s top economic developer gives a hint of the direction James wants to take the 6,000-member organization. She has been active with the Area Development Partnership in Hattiesburg, serving as chairman in 1998, and was on the committee that convinced Swoope to return to Mississippi from Arkansas.
“I will encourage Realtors to help build better communities and improve the quality of life, to take leadership roles and be involved with their communities,” James said. “I was taught we should give something back. Economic development is a real passion of mine.”
Although she doesn’t want to unveil the details of her plan for her presidency of MAR, she did announce her theme — “Get REAL in 2008” — focusing on Realtors as educators, advocates and leaders.
“Who better knows communities than Realtors?” she asked. “We understand neighborhoods inside and out. We hear the comments that newcomers to our communities make. And we should be able to make our communities better.”
James entered the profession in 1976 because she felt the schedule flexibility would mesh with the needs of her family. “It’s not a part-time job like I thought,” she said. “I fell into the joys of the profession, and it became a wonderful thing for me. I still enjoy coming to work every day.”
Part of that joy is helping people solve the problems of achieving home ownership, and part of it is helping the other agents at her firm achieve their potential. She and her partner since 1984, Don Nace, manage 35 real estate agents at Coldwell Banker in Hattiesburg.
The Realtor’s oath, which was written in 1913, remains relevant to her and is an ongoing inspiration. “It states that our goal is to identify common ground where developers, environmentalists, public officials, citizens and others can find acceptable ways of growth,” she said. “It will be awesome if we can do that. There’s no stopping growth and we must be prepared for it.”
James wants to make her presidency of MAR a fun year for all those around her. “Getting to know people all over the state will be the best part,” she said. “I look forward to traveling and meeting other Realtors. This is my year to give back to the profession. My motivation is to grow the state and have Realtors involved. They need to know all about their communities.”
That’s something James knows first hand. In addition to her former chairmanship of the Hattiesburg ADP, she is currently serving as vice president of that group’s foundation and helped start the retiree recruitment program. She is chairman of the Hattiesburg Planning and Zoning Commission, serves on the Pinebelt Family Y board of directors, is a trustee for William Carey University, is a director of the Greater Hattiesburg Community Foundation and is active with the United Way and Salvation Army.
“I grew up in Hattiesburg, and that’s one reason I have a passion for leaving it a better place,” she said. “My mother, Mabel Cooper, and grandmother. Velma Cooley, were strong women who taught me values that stay with me today. They held me accountable, and it made me always want to be accountable.”
James and her late husband, Bob James, had a family merger when they married and together raised seven children. She found that having a large family helped her juggle and multi-task the many duties of a busy realtor.
Now, there are 13 grandchildren with whom she loves to spend time and play. A special delight is serving lunch at her home every Sunday. There’s an open invitation to all family members who are in close enough proximity to attend.
As for real estate, James can’t imagine doing anything else. “It’s such a part of my life,” she said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.